Category: Lighting/Flash Tips

Laguna Niguel Portrait Photographer – Tuesday Photo Tip – Mystery of Flash Solved

I came  up with the idea for this Tuesday Photo Tip while talking to a colleague on the East Coast. He was snowed in. I jokingly promised to send him a photo so I snapped this shot of our bedroom with the French doors wide open illustrating “another day in paradise” weather.

The reason for showing this is to illustrate today’s topic. We will give you a simple three step process that will allow you to fully utilize your flash. Three easy steps. Follow along for details…or jump to the end for a list of the steps.

For this “day in paradise” photo I knew I would need flash to balance the outside and inside exposures. That’s done by using your flash and shooting in manual mode. Don’t panic – we’ll list the simple steps you should take.

Here are a few pictures of our backyard at the time I took the bedroom picture. It was a partly cloudy day with big fluffy white clouds.  If I exposed for this outside scene the bedroom would be deep in shadow. So let’s add some light to the bedroom to balance the two exposures.

Why are there two exposures you ask? Great question. The answer (below) will eliminate the mystery of flash photography. Once you understand the two exposures you will master flash photography.

Let’s talk about the first exposure. Exposure #1 is the foreground/bedroom which is lit predominantly by the flash on my camera. The flash exposure (exposure #1) is controlled by the aperture YOU choose and the flash power YOUR CAMERA chooses.

You pick the aperture – let’s say f/4 – and the camera will determine the amount of power the flash should produce. Looking at the aperture illustration above you can see that it would be difficult for the flash to pump enough light through a tiny aperture (say f/16).

Here are the first two steps. Step #1:  set your camera to manual mode. Step #2: set your aperture to f/4 (read this post to learn why manual mode should be used for flash photography). The next step is handled by your camera –  it will automatically choose the flash power needed to properly expose the foreground/bedroom.  Exposure #1 is set – f/4 with the camera determining flash power output.

Simple, let’s move on to Exposure #2 – the background – which in this case is our backyard. The flash exposure won’t affect the background – it’s just too far for the flash to have any impact. Here’s a better example of that point.

I used foreground/background exposure balancing for this photo of Rebecca and Doug at Hoag Hospital. In this photo the background is Newport Harbor. Obviously the flash can’t add any light to that.

So let’s dial in Exposure #2, the background. Exposure #2 is determined by the aperture and the shutter speed. That’s no surprise. It is what you are used to considering when you shoot with no flash. But notice – we now have another knob to turn: shutter speed.

For this exercise we’ve already chosen the aperture (f/4) for the flash/foreground exposure. That’s also used in the background exposure. We now are left with a shutter speed decision – nothing more.

We’re looking for a shutter speed that will correctly expose the backyard/background. We find that by doing Step #3 – roll the shutter speed dial until your camera tells you the exposure is correct. You can adjust it to your taste. Often times we will underexpose the background just a bit to get those deep colorful skies as shown in the photo below. The couple is lit by off-camera flash – the background is underexposed by 1 stop.

Maybe you want a high key portrait as shown below. In that case you would choose a slower/longer shutter to let more background light in.

Changing the shutter speed to add flavor to the background exposure will not affect the flash/foreground exposure (determined solely by aperture and flash power).

Find that hard to believe? Try this simple exercise. Take a photo of any object (vase, fireplace, …) in your home with the room lights dim and blinds/drapes closed. Now change only the shutter speed and take that same photo. Check it out – no difference in the exposure because flash exposure is independent of shutter speed. We talked a bit more on that in this earlier post and used the example photos below.

So, to recap, pick a scene that includes a window on a bright sunny day. Then choose an aperture of f/4 and take the photo with different shutter speeds. Start at 1/200 sec, then use 1/100 sec, then 1/60 sec. Be sure you’re at a low ISO otherwise the background will be blown out at 1/200 sec.

See what’s happening? The flash exposure is constant and the background exposure gets brighter as you change (reduce) shutter speed.

That’s the key to flash photography. Really, it’s that simple. Shoot in manual, choose a reasonable aperture (no higher than ~f/8) and dial in the background exposure with the shutter speed. Then flavor to your taste (higher shutter speeds for colorful skies, lower shutter speeds for high key backgrounds). Want that in easy to see steps:

Step #1: set your camera to manual (Try it, you’ll like it – we promise. Your camera will automatically determine the appropriate flash power).

Step #2: Pick an aperture – anywhere between f/2.8 and f/8 will work for most situations.

Step #3: Dial the shutter speed to taste (stay somewhere between 1/15th and 1/200th). Long shutters (e.g. 1/15th) brighten the background, short shutters (e.g. 1/200th) darken the background.

Feel free to comment or show off some of your own compositions that illustrate this tip. In the meantime, stay tuned because more Tuesday Photo Tips are right around the corner. Better yet – be updated automatically when we post Photo Excursions, Road Trips, Family Happenings or Photo Tips by “friending” our Facebook site. We also post favorite photos, along with an explanation of how it was captured, on our Pinterest page – follow us there and join in the fun.

PS – This is one of dozens of photo tips in our continuing Tuesday Photo Tips series of posts. There  are other resource articles on our site you may enjoy covering basic and more advanced photography topics. There are also tips that cover topics such as preparing for family or infant/child portrait sessions. If you would like a topic covered just jot it down in a comment or send us a note. Also, if  you think your friends or family members would enjoy these tips please pass them on by using any of the share buttons below.

Tuesday Photo Tip – Catch Lights for the Eyes

The eyes are the windows to the soul. They are also a key element of any portrait so we thought we’d touch on catch lights in the eyes.

The lack of a catch light in a portrait has earned the somewhat disturbing title of “dead eye”. That might be overstating things but, a missing catch light is quite noticeable.

In the photo above of Benjamin in his Halloween outfit from a few years back you’ll notice that I had him turn his face towards the ceiling light in our kitchen. As an aside – you may have guessed that 1) it’s a bank of fluorescent lights which is 2) why this photo is a black & white photo. But let’s forget about the white balance and mixed lighting nightmare that fluorescents saddle us with. We’ve talked about mixed light in last week’s post and in this Resource Article.

The fluorescent light bank provided a large and hence soft source of light. Soft light creates gentle shadows that help shape his facial features. By turning his face into the light we also capture a catch light in both eyes. For comparison I “removed” the catch light and showed the result in the right hand panel. Clearly the left panel is a more compelling and pleasing portrait. Notice how your eyes are drawn to Benjamin’s eyes with the catch light. They serve as a highlight – the “dead eye” version is just not as pleasing to the viewer.

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The photo above shows the difference – with and without catch lights – however in this case I added the catch light in post production. This was a spontaneous photo with Destiny practicing her hula hoop technique on our front lawn. The sun was behind her (hence the hair/rim light) and she was looking down. So I added a soft catch light in post. Clearly the added catch light helps highlight her beautiful brown eyes and makes for a more endearing photograph. It was done with a light touch in Photoshop but once you compare the two panels you see the striking difference.

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Of course not all catch lights are created equal. Here’s a candid shot of Jeremiah looking out thru the big sliding glass doors in our dining area. You can’t beat indirect window light for portraits. As stated above, the large light source gives pleasing/soft shadows that help shape the facial features (big puffy cheeks!!).  In this case the non-conventional catch light(s) are provided by the open areas of the outdoor awning.

It doesn’t matter what serves as a catch light but it sure helps to have one. Keep that in mind the next time you pose your kids/grandkids/family. As an exercise, next time you watch  your favorite TV show or movie keep your eye on the actor’s eyes. Videographers go to great lengths to provide a catch light in all scenes.

Feel free to comment or show off some of your own compositions that illustrate this tip. In the meantime, stay tuned because more Tuesday Photo Tips are right around the corner. Better yet – be updated automatically when we post Photo Excursions, Road Trips, Family Happenings or Photo Tips by “friending” our Facebook site.

PS – This is one of dozens of photo tips in our continuing Tuesday Photo Tips series of posts. There  are other resource articles on our site you may enjoy that cover basic and more advanced photography topics. There are also tips covering topics such as preparing for family or infant/child portrait sessions. If you would like a topic covered just jot it down in a comment or send us a note. Also, if  you think your friends or family members would enjoy these tips please pass them on by using any of the share buttons below.

Tuesday Photo Tip – Simple Camera Settings to Master Your Flash

In last week’s Tuesday Photography Tips we began our discussion of flash exposure. We explained why flash photography causes so much trouble. We want you to become comfortable using your flash so in this post we will describe four simple steps to set your camera up for flash photos. Following these tips will lead to much improved photos of your family and loved ones.

Last week we learned that when using a flash you have to deal with two exposures: the background exposure –  parts of the scene not illuminated with the flash – and  a separate flash exposure for the subjects that are close enough to be illuminated by the flash. Once you grasp the concept of two exposures you’ll become a master of flash exposures. Be sure to read that post before we take this next step.

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Often times novice photographers advance in their camera control by moving from the full auto mode (the green square on Canon cameras) to aperture priority (Av). We shoot in Av mode more often than not (read this post for details) …. unless we’re shooting with a flash.

Recall that in Av mode you chose the aperture and the camera’s computer picks the shutter speed to give you a correct exposure. When you shoot in Av mode with a flash attached the camera will ignore the presence of the flash and set the shutter speed to correctly expose the background. Your camera’s computer will let the flash choose a flash power (read this post for details) to correctly light the nearby elements that are illuminated by the flash (like your grandchild on a swing).

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Well, that sounds good except …. if you’re using a flash for an indoor scene with a very little light the camera computer will choose a slow shutter speed. You can end up with photos like these shown below. The flash lit the subjects but the slow shutter speed resulted in motion blur (sometimes a good thing as discussed here) that is unsightly at best.

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It’s not your fault – it’s just that you’re not taking full control of the camera settings. This is why whenever we shoot with a flash we ALWAYS shoot in full manual (M) mode. This way we can set the shutter speed to ensure we don’t get this ugly motion blur. So here’s the simplest solution for shooting flash and getting the shots you want.

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First – make sure you’ve considered the limited power of you flash. Don’t ask your flash to light up a concert hall. It just doesn’t have enough uumph (that’s a technical term!) to do it.

Second – make sure your primary subject (child, spouse) is close enough to the flash. Anything further than 10 feet could be a problem. You can get more uumph out of your flash by increasing the ISO and shooting “wide open” but even then, anything more than 10 feet will be a problem for most cameras.

Third – set your camera exposure to manual (M) mode. Don’t worry – we’ll make it easy for you to master this.

Fourth – open up your aperture as wide as possible. Don’t expect your flash to squeeze any light through a tiny (f/8 or higher) aperture. Stick with f/5.6 or lower.

Final step – choose a shutter speed that is less than 1/200 sec. A safe choice would be 1/160 sec. This limitation is due to a technical term called flash sync speed. We will cover that topic in a later post.

Feel free to comment or show off some of your own flash photos. In the meantime, stay tuned because more Tuesday Photo Tips are right around the corner. Better yet – be updated automatically when we post Photo Excursions, Road Trips, Family Happenings or Photo Tips by “friending” our Facebook site.

PS – This is one of dozens of photo tips in our continuing Tuesday Photo Tips series of posts. There  are other resource articles on our site you may enjoy covering basic and more advanced photography topics. There are also tips covering topics such as preparing for family or infant/child portrait sessions. If you would like a topic covered just jot it down in a comment or send us a note.

Tuesday Photo Tip – Flash exposure & shutter speed

In this week’s Tuesday Photography Tips we’ll cover flash exposure, a trouble spot for most novice photographers. It’s easy to understand why flash photography causes so much consternation. Take everything you’ve learned about exposure and readjust your thinking for flash exposure. You need to learn a new exposure triangle and use it when appropriate. That’s all there is to learning flash photography and, quite frankly, it’s easy to do.

You’ve already learned that exposure is controlled by the three variables of the exposure triangle – aperture, shutter speed and ISO. This topic was covered at length in a series of posts starting with this one.

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Well – flash exposure is a bit different. Here’s why. Flash exposure does not depend on shutter speed. Yes, you heard that right and here’s an example of that perplexing statement.

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The two photos above were taken with vastly different shutter speeds. Granted these are busy shots that violates the composition mantra to keep it simple but they will help demonstrate the point of this post. That point is this – shutter speed does NOT impact flash exposure. Believe it – look at these two photos.

Specifically, look at the exposure on Jeremiah. Even though the shutter speeds varied by a factor of 4x (1/200 vs. 1/800) you see no significant difference in the exposure on his face. How does that work?

It works because the exposure triangle for flash photography consists of aperture, flash power and ISO. Notice shutter speed is not in the flash exposure triangle. We’ve traded flash power for shutter speed. Regardless of the shutter speed, your camera will automatically adjust the flash power to give the correct exposure for a given aperture.

So why doesn’t shutter speed enter into the flash exposure calculus? Think about this – the “flash” of light from your flash lasts a tiny fraction (~1/1,000) of a second. That’s why we call it flash!! Hence, the light on your flash subject is only available for that tiny fraction of a second. The light that illuminated Jeremiah was only on for 1/1,000 of a second – for a flash. So why would the shutter speed matter. It doesn’t except ….

…. let’s look a little closer at the background. Notice how much darker the background is in the right hand panel. Remember, the background is not significantly affected by the flash – it’s just too far away for the flash to illuminate it. The background exposure is subject to the standard triangle – aperture, shutter speed and ISO.

I wanted the background to go dark to reduce the visible clutter. Since the background exposure IS controlled by shutter speed I shot the right hand panel at 1/800 sec. Granted, that didn’t work so well but the two photos illustrate the point of this post – shutter speed does NOT affect the flash exposure. It’s simple, for flash photos you pick an aperture (more on this next week) and your camera will pick the appropriate amount of flash.

Here are some examples of what you can do when you master your flash exposure triangle and mix it with the background exposure to take complete control of the lighting – foreground and background.

These photos demonstrate that the (simple) key to flash photography is to understand there are two exposures to consider:  the background exposure – for those elements that aren’t illuminated with the flash and  the flash exposure  – for those elements in the frame that are close enough to be illuminated by the flash. Once you grasp the concept of two exposures you’ll become a master of flash exposures.

In next week’s post we’ll talk a bit more about this. We’ll tell you exactly what to do to nail your flash exposures. It really is easy once you “see the light”.

Stay tuned because next week we’ll give you practical tips on how to master your flash. Better yet – be updated automatically by “friending” our Facebook site.

PS – This is one of dozens of photo tips in our continuing Tuesday Photo Tips series of posts. There  are other resource articles on our site you may enjoy covering basic and more advanced photography topics. There are also tips covering topics such as preparing for family or infant/child portrait sessions. If you would like a topic covered just jot it down in a comment or send us a note.

 

Tuesday Photography Tip – Cell Phone Camera Tips-5

This is the fifth post on Cell Phone Camera Tips. The first post introduced camera settings and the #1 villain behind blurry photos. The second warned against using digital zoom and touched on portrait techniques. The third post addressed clutter reduction and last week’s post was all about perspective and shooting angles.

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Today we will touch on a topic that causes anxiety for most novice photographers – using your flash. We discussed this in an earlier post and gave you some tips on how to use your flash. Today we will focus on using the flash on your camera phone in situations you may not consider – outdoor portraits. You will learn how to use your flash as a secret weapon in these situations.

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Why use a flash outside in the bright sun? Look at the photos above and I think you will see how adding a pop of “fill flash” (as shown in the right hand panel) made a huge difference.

In those photos the flash wasn’t used as the main light source – that job was aptly filled by the sun. However, our tiny camera phone flash provided a burst of light to “fill in” dark shadows and correctly expose the children’s faces.

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The flash on your camera phone isn’t very powerful. But if your close enough to your subject (no more than 10 feet) it can provide “fill” even with backlit subjects.

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Turn on the flash by toggling through the modes (Off, Auto, On or, if available, Fill.) Keep your subject within the “flash range” – less than 10 feet – and let the flash light their faces. Keeping within the flash range will also ensure that you fill the frame with your portrait subject – a technique discussed in this earlier post.

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The level of sophistication in your cell phone camera is truly astounding. Before you can blink an eye while you’re pushing the shutter button the flash fires, the camera analyzes the amount of light returned to the sensor and then adjusts the flash power resulting in a correct exposure. That’s right – your camera has a computer inside that very quickly and accurately meters the flash and adjusts its power before you are even aware it’s happening. Amazing!

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With that in mind, let’s look at some simple flash considerations to keep in mind. They aren’t complicated – just situations to avoid because your camera phone isn’t infallible.

In dark scene where the flash contributes most of the light (e.g. outdoor at night, dark rooms) only nearby objects will be lit. As stated earlier, flash only works on objects within 10 feet from the camera. This is especially true for small camera phones. Don’t expect your flash to light up anything beyond that distance – it just doesn’t have enough ooomph. If you try to overwork your flash your subjects will have that “shot in a cave” look – not real impressive.

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If  you have someone or something significantly closer to the camera than other people or objects that someone/something is going to be overexposed while the others will be correctly exposed or underexposed. Did we mention how quickly flash power falls off  with distance (I hope so!!). Here’s another consequence of that – Aunt Martha is overexposed because she is so much closer to the flash than her daughter and the others.

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So, the simple technique is turn on the flash even when  you wouldn’t think to. You’ll notice an immediate improvement in the photos of your children/family especially in outdoor scenes.

Feel free to comment or show off some of your own compositions that illustrate this tip. In the meantime, stay tuned because more Tuesday Photo Tips are right around the corner. Better yet – be updated automatically by “friending” our Facebook site.

PS – This is one of dozens of photo tips in our continuing Tuesday Photo Tips series of posts. There  are other resource articles on our site you may enjoy covering basic and more advanced photography topics. There are also tips covering topics such as preparing for family or infant/child portrait sessions. If you would like a topic covered just jot it down in a comment or send us a note.

 

Tuesday Photography Tip – Beach Photos #2

Today we will complete our list of tips for Beach Photography. Be sure to read last week’s installment to get the complete list of tips.

Beach Photo Tip #5 – Fill Flash

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We ended last week’s post with a discussion of contrast and exposure. Today we identify an easy way to balance the background and foreground lighting levels. It’s a technique we’ve advocated for in many earlier posts. Use your camera’s fill flash!!

Why would anyone use a flash in the bright sun. The answer is evident in the photos above. Without a flash the subjects would be in dark shadow or silhouette. Read the earlier post for details on this technique. You should be using it anytime you capture outdoor portraits. Your family photos will improve dramatically.

Beach Photo Tip #6 – Look the Other Way

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Here’s another tip – look the other way. Not all beach photos need to include the ocean or setting sun. As we mentioned in the intro, the beach is a place brimming with energy. Walk around, keep your eyes peeled for acrobats or flying cars.

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Beach Photo Tip #7 – Level Horizon

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Please check your horizon to make sure it’s level. Either introduce a significant tilt, on purpose, or try to nail it. A slight tilt in the horizon will create a real problem especially for photos with a lot of negative space.

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Beach Photo Tip #8 – Stormy Weather

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Don’t discount stormy days. Sometimes the weather can be an integral part of the photo. Just be careful – the beach can be a dangerous place during severe storms.

Beach Photo Tip #9 – B&W

The beach can be colorful, especially during the Golden Hours, but that doesn’t mean you can’t capture some interesting black and white photos.

Beach Photo Tip #10 – Fun & Practice

I could probably come up with a tenth technique tip but – how about this one? Be sure to grab your camera next time  you head out to the beach and have some fun. If you don’t live near a beach – come and visit us here in Southern California. We’d be thrilled to show you our favorite spots and help you master these beach photography tips.

Feel free to show off some of your own beach photographs. In the meantime, stay tuned because more Tuesday Photo Tips are right around the corner. Better yet – be updated automatically by “friending” our Facebook site.

PS – This is one of dozens of photo tips in our continuing Tuesday Photo Tips series of posts. There  are other resource articles on our site you may enjoy covering basic and more advanced photography topics. There are also tips covering topics such as preparing for family or infant/child portrait sessions. If you would like a topic covered just jot it down in a comment or send us a note.