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| p.1 #9 · Best way to improve light for indoor kid shots? |
Ambient is always my first lighting option. But often ambient light shades the eyes because it's coming from too high or not in the direction which flatters the subject on the background I need to frame them in front of. That's when I will use flash, but always mindful of how the ambient is modeling the subject.
The biggest mistake I see beginners make with flash, especially outdoors, is overpowering and canceling the ambient modeling. Not surprisingly the results don't look natural. The trick to getting natural looking flash assisted shots is to use the flash vectors (both key and fill) to complement or mimic the natural ambient modeling.
Part of the blame lies in the fact that camera makers continue to put hot shoes on cameras that encourage to use flash at an unnaturally low angle relative to faces. Even if a diffuser added bounce the light around if the dominant "key" vector comes from eye level the lighting while having softer shadows will not have natural downward modeling.
The problem is two fold: there are no shadow modeling clues and the eye level flash creates unnaturally low highlights on the cheekbones that don't look "right" compared to a downward natural baseline we see in person most of the time.
Many equate "better" flash lighting with moving the flash off axis sideways on a stand, in part because flash on camera looks so unnatural, but with a single flash the better strategy is to raise the flash make the key vector downward, but keep it centered so the nose does not cast an asymmetrical sideways shadow. When raised and centered there are no shadows on the sides of the nose. It blends into the similarly lit cheeks allowing the eyes and mouth to become stronger focal points. That's why centered key light strategies are frequently used in full face glamor shots.
Bouncing changes the modeling vector to downward and also bounces light all over the room creating many different "fill" vectors direct flash lacks. The modeling is natural and there aren't the "hot" spot highlight clues low on the cheeks that scream "flash" in a hot shoe mounted flash shot. It's a good solution with single flash when there is a ceiling available. But bounce down from too steep an angle and the brow shades the eyes. You'll also want a "catchlight" card attached to the flash to create reflected catchlights. As the size of the card /scoop gets bigger it will also bounce some fill forward but the modeling comes from the bounced vector.
A flash bracket makes lighting more flattering by raising the flash so it from an more natural downward direction. A direct flash on a bracket will also create the same 'hot spot' reflections on the face, but the bracket moves them up to where natural light would create them on the same oily, damp face. The hot spots still aren't flattering because they are a clue that makes the lighting seem "hard", but at least they are in the "right" places to model the 3D shape of the face naturally.
The single flash approach I use is a combination of both. I use a bracket and a DIY diffuser that looks like a scoop / bowl that bounces light directly and off the ceiling. I control the direct vs. bounced ratio with the angle of the top flap. Indoors where there is a lot of bounce spill occurring the main advantage the bracket is putting the flash a foot or so closer to the ceiling. But when there isn't a ceiling or it's too high to be effective I angle the top flap flat to bounce 100% of the flash output forward like a softbox and count on the bracket to make the vector of the light relative to the faces downward and flattering.
That two-prong approach covers all the single flash options: bouncing, bouncing + direct, and direct with and without the diffuser. All the approaches make the modeling vector downward and naturally flattering. What varies with the room are the fill vectors and tone of the shadows. But since the flash is always centered the shadows fall front > back not sideways creating distractions.
The problem moving a single flash off axis controlling the angle and tone of the shadows. Well placed downward angled shadows on a face framing a "mask" of highlights on the higher parts is what creates a natural impression of 3D face shape in a lighting pattern. But if the off camera flash is not precisely and skillfully placed with that in mind a face lit from the side wind up with dark shaded eyes and dark nose shadows hanging sideways. As with any single flash strategy the fill comes from the light that flash bounces around the room everywhere other than where it is aimed and creating the modeling vector. That varies unpredictably.
The convention of putting a key light 45 degrees to the side and 45 degrees above the eye line became a convention because it mimics how mid-day sun lights 3D objects and faces. To illustrate this cause and effect I created a snow head a few years ago aligned so afternoon sun would model it.
I knew the mid-day sun is about 45 vertically and in the SW sky so I aimed the face due west. When I finished it at around 2PM this was the modeling on the full face view:
Walking around towards the shadow side produces these views with the same "key" light placement:
Lighting a face like that is something I learned apprenticing with Monte Zucker 40 years ago, except we did it with the indirect key light from a north window not the direct sun. The lesson there is lighting isn't really that difficult if you understand the cause and effect. Get the light in both eyes and make the nose shadow fall just over the nose as much as possible to make the size and shape of the shadow it casts match the size and shape of the nose. The 45V / 45H angle does than because of the geometry of the eye sockets and nose.
There are no rules so it's up to you to try all the possible key light angles and decide what you like. Two criteria I suggest you consider is whether the key light reaches both eyes and where the nose shadow falls and how it affect the impression of the nose. Consider that the eyes and mouth expressions trigger the emotional reaction. What does the nose do? If poorly lit and underfilled it distracts from the eyes and mouth.
In terms of cause and effect if the key light gets higher than 45 degrees the brow starts to shade the eyes. Lower than 30 degrees and the lighting look unnaturally low and the nose shadow hangs out sideways. If the key light is centered on the nose the shadow hangs straight down and the sides of the nose are highlighted - the nose more or less disappears. If the key light is 45 to the side the nose shadow falls over 1/2 of the nose. At all the other angles the nose shadow hangs out sideways to some degree creating a distraction from the yes and mouth.
In a studio setting you can "rough in" the key light position then coach the subject to adjust their face to the light to precisely place it. When trying to light candids with the 45/45 strategy you need to either find a stationary target, or predict where the nose will be pointing when you take the shot.
Here I was testing my DIY diffusers and found the in-house model otherwise engaged on the phone. But that still allowed me to wheel the off camera flash 45 degrees from her nose and 45 higher...
... then walk around to the opposite oblique angle where the face was 45 degrees to the camera and camera was 90 degrees to the key light:
Control of the lighting ratio was done via the Master flash on my bracket which provided a direct frontal fill vector. But note in the wide shot how much "spill fill" was also bouncing around the room creating diffuse "wrap around" key vectors. With most speedlight or studio modifiers the "spill fill" of the light footprints off ceiling and walls contribute to the "wrap" effect. A factor in using speedlight modifiers effectively is understanding how to take advantage of that spill to compensate for the small size of the source.
With a two flash strategy the flash on the bracket becomes "fill" not the primary modeling "key" vector. It still has all the same qualities that make my single flash shots more flattering while allowing the option of off axis modeling when a subject is standing still long enough to set the lights. I used the same strategy at a party...
Coming on the situation I saw the guy facing the camera would be there for a couple minutes looking at the tall guy in the foreground so I wheeled the off camera light around until standing behind it I saw the face of guy in the background obliquely, then walked back around 90 degrees from the light at a 45 degree angle to his face to take the shot. Same "formula" as the shot on the couch.
What if the subjects are moving? Odds of getting flattering lighting on the face decrease to below 50% especially when there is more than one face in the photo. The more effective strategy? Don't put a key light in front and too the side, but it behind the action...
It's the same strategy I use outdoors in backlight:
The flash behind (or sun outdoors) changes role from frontal "key" to rear "rim" light. The flash and diffuser on the bracket create the downward "key" modeling vector highlights on the face and the bounced ceiling light (or skylight outdoors) produces the fill vectors.
It produces a "three light (vector) solution with only two light sources. The critical factor? Raising the flash in front on the bracket. That's why I always have a flash on my bracket indoors and out.
Some find a bracket cumbersome, but for me I don't find it gets in the way shooting and when I'm not shooting grabbing the bracket on top is a convenient way to carry the camera around. It's not a solution everyone will like, but one I thing everyone should try because it automatically makes any single flash shot more flattering and provides the foundation of flat nearly shadowless fill needed to fit foreground range from black suit to white wedding dress to the range of the sensor at the same time.
For most run and gun shooting I use Canon's ETTL mode with A:B ratio flash control. I know from testing and experience an A:B=1:2 setting (2x more slave key light than master fill) produces a reflected ratio that will record detail everywhere. That makes getting optimally exposed full range files simply a matter of watching the highlights via the clipping warning and adjusting FEC so they stay just under the point of clipping. Approached that way shooting with dual flash is as simple and predictable as using one.
Use the ambient as the foundation to any flash you add.
Create a downward modeling vector on the faces, directly or by bouncing
When you move a flash off axis sideways understand where the fill is coming from and how to control it
A logistically simple way to control key light placement and shadow tone is with an off axis key light (centered vertically or at 45 degrees from nose) with fill coming from the direction of the lens from a second source with Canon's ETTL ratios or the Nikon CLS system. Set a ratio you know from experience records a full range of tone (e.g. A:B =1:2) then adjust flash exposure for the highlight detail with FEC as you would with single flash.
If you can't control PRECISE placement of an off axis key light either center it to eliminate sideways shadows on the faces, or put it behind as rim light with the source in front raise on the bracket providing the frontal modeling.