Lock and Load And Get Ready To Light ‘Em Up
May 25th, 2014 – Edited on March 16th, 2015
By Elliot Stern and Brian Zwit
Shadows, darkness, crevices, creases, textures, hats, and maybe even a chocolate Labrador Retriever are all things that could do with a little extra light. Why? Because your camera can sometimes use a little help when photographing dark subjects or subjects in deep shadows.
There are those who believe that an image can always be fixed in software. However, that isn’t true for all images. I have seen too many images taken from photograph to the look of a drawing with the massive sweep of a few sliders. Of course learning how to process an image is not a bad idea for any of us. (Check out Brian’s Lightroom classes)
I believe and many others believe the adage, “get it right in the camera” is just as true today as it was when we shot film and before Photoshop. What will happen in the future no one really knows.
However, the proper use of software especially on raw files can make stunning differences on the side of excellent.
But for now, properly reading your histogram and using the controls of your camera properly will go a long way to getting the exposure correct. But there will be times even though you have followed the rules there will be areas when the camera and you will need a little help to get your exposure evened out or with more impact.
Having been a photographer for a good part of my life, I have seen a lot of changes take place. One thing however has always remained constant: You need to be able to control your exposure and sometimes add light to a scene.
There are a variety of ways to control your light. A recent article I wrote spoke about light modifiers. There is another way and that way allows you to more precisely place light exactly where you need it as opposed to the broad base light distribution of light modifiers.
Fill flash has been around for a very long time. When I first used it everything was manual and cameras used film. Unlike digital there was no way of knowing how well the effect was applied to the image until you got the processed film back from the lab. Today because of digital we have instant feed back, which helps us to quickly see our results and adjust the light as needed.
How much gear you need depends upon the task at hand. For most of us, one flash, maybe two flashes will do the job. I usually carry one small flash for boosting the impact of light in relatively small areas. I shoot with Fuji X cameras, and Fuji makes a very small flash model and that works fine for me.
There are of course very elaborate flash systems made by some camera manufacturers that you can couple up with Pocket Wizard products for lighting up a whole city block if needed. For our purposes simply lighting up a small segment of a subject to bring out more detail or add greater depth or perhaps create shadow where there is none or lighten a shadow where there is a dark one. In some cases, when photographing people outdoors, shadows under the eyes can be created by being under a tree or wearing a baseball cap or hat. This can change the entire look of a person, but with a little bit of fill the situation is remedied by lightening up those shadows.
Most systems that we all shoot with today have what is called Auto Fill Flash. Here the camera decides exactly (supposedly) how much extra light is needed. However these flashes and cameras also allow controlling the amount of light manually, usually anywhere from 1/3 stops to five stops. By working manually there is more control. Working in Auto could cause too many variances.
I, however, use this minuscule amount of flash for field work. It could be in creating a landscape and lighting the foreground or it could be adding light in macro photography either from the front, sides, or the back of the subject and from a variety of angles. If I wanted to work with several lights at an architectural site I would set the flashes manually, placing them where they would provide the right amount of light needed.
So now you are wondering about triggering these flashes. If I was working within 50 feet, I could use almost any flash trigger in the market place. But if I wanted to get reliable radio signals to my flashes from my camera the only great options are made by Pocket Wizard. The range on Pocket Wizards far exceed anything else in the market and are trusted by a great many professional photographers and are very serious triggering devices at some very serious prices. You get what you pay for.
But for photographers who are only going to use this type of flash control for simple fill situations over small distances then triggers like the FlashQ will work just fine within about a 25 foot range
Remember always use Radio Signal triggers. Never Infrared, because radio can travel around corners and through walls, and infrared cannot. Radio signals are simply more reliable with greater distance range.