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| p.1 #5 · social off-camera flash on the go (parties, nightclubs, waterfronts etc.) |
The simplest way to make "on the go" lighting more flattering on faces is to move it up off the camera, away from the lens axis with a flash bracket.
A bracket does two things. The obvious one is raise the flash and make it's angle relative to the faces downward and more like the modeling on faces in natural light. The second benefit is the cast cast behind the subject which is so distracting in hotshoe shots taken in portait model disappears from view. Combined the two make flash-on-bracket much more flattering that flash in the hotshoe wherever you move with the camera.
That's not to say you shouldn't also use an off-camera flash. I've used two for 40 years now, learning the technique as a second shooter / assistant for Monte Zucker. Something you'll quickly realize if you move a single flash off axis sideways in a dark club is the shadows on the faces will be very dark and flattering. The solution? The off-axis flash to create the illusion of 3D shape with the highlights and the flash you are carrying around on the bracket for the near-axis fill. You get the same modeling as you would with just moving one light off axis, plus controi over the lighting ratio and tone of the shadows just as you would with studio lighting.
As for positioning? You can put the off axis key light at any angle — there are no rules — but if after trying all those angles you'll probably conclude some make a face more attractive than others. Make a list of the criteria you think make lighting flattering. My short list includes seeing light and a sparkle of catchlights in the eyes, no dark unfilled "hard" looking shadows, and natural overhead modeling.
For full face, looking at camera, individual or group shots the single flash raised vertically on the bracket creates flattering, natural modeling on faces because the lighting pattern matches the symmetrical view of the face looking straight at the camera. Most of the front of the face, both eyes and the mouth is highlighted and the nose shadow, if seen at all, falls straight down hiding the nostrils.
When you start moving the flash around to the side of the face the nose and smile lines starts to cast shadows. Where do clues about the 3D shape of the nose and other features come from in a 2D photo? The size, shape, angle and tone of the shadow the nose and other features cast.
Due to the geometry of a human face what happens when the key light gets to 45° above the eyes is that the brow starts to shade the eye sockets. if it gets much below 30° the shadow clues don't look natural. So the range of 30-45° vertically winds up being more flattering and natural because the eyes are well lit and the shadow clues look "right" vs. "fake" as when flash is lower.
As you move the off camera key light sideways the nose shadow which was neatly hidden under the nose in the centered strategy starts to hang out. If you move it in a equidistant arc from 0° center to 90° pointing at the ear of the subject you'll find that when the key light is around 45° and 45° above the eyes the nose shadow covers 1/2 the nose and doesn't hang out much. In other words it models the 3D shape of the nose (and the rest of the face) ideally.
While it's the shadows that get noticed the most (especially if dark and unfilled) the other important part of what creates the illusion of 3D is where the highlights fall on the face. Think about what makes a on-camera flash shot looks fake. There aren't many shadow clues and in hotshoe puts its refections much lower on the cheeks than natural or overhead indoor lighting. It looks fake because it's not what you normally see. So while you might not even notice or appreciate it, part of what makes the bracket and 45°/45° strategies work is that they put the highlights in the "right" places on the face where you expect to see them.
One of the reasons holding a single flash off camera at "arms length" is that the angle winds up to shallow and you just get distracting sideways nose shadows on the face which vary if you don't hold your arm consistently. That leaves you holding the camera in one hand, increasing the odds you'll drop it or the flash at some point.
But even when the flash is posiitioned ideally 45°/45° sideways shots in dynamic situations the problem is that if the face moves you look the flattering pattern on the face. If the subject turns to the left and the light is on the right most of the face winds up in shadow. That's why when shooting candids with dual flash I only use the off-camera flash to the side if photographing someone who is standing or sitting still and looking in one consistent direction long enough to move the light around 45° from where they are looking and get back around to shoot from the opposite 45° facial angle. Not posed, just predictable situations where you set the light 90° from camera positiion and wait for the subject to turn 45° from both camera and key light like these candid shots::
What I do most of the time with dual flash at parties is park the off camera flash behind the action in a corner as rim light. Rim lighting also creates the illusion of 3D but unlike the frontal key light it mostly creates the illusion of 3D depth. But combined with the raised centered flash on the bracket I get the illusion of 3D space from the rim light and predictable, flattering light on the face and front of the subjects.
This shot shows where I placed the off camera flash it a the birthday party of a 5 year-old:
It was in the same place for these shots I took moving around with the flash on the bracket:
That same rim + frontal bracket lighting strategy would work well in a club setting if you mounted off camera flashes up out of the reach of the patrons using a clamp mount. Used without the flash in front you'd get dark shadows. Without raising the flash in front on the bracket you wouldn't get the flattering modeling on the front side.
Why the long-winded explanation? Most starting in flash tend to throw money and equipment at the problems before they fully understand the problem or the cause and effect of what winds up making lighting look flattering. That's the goal of the exercise isn't it, to make the people you photograph look good? That's all a matter of the angle of the key light relative to the face and controlling the tone of the shadows with fill via the lighting ratio, what the equipment and strategies above will make simple.