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Archive 2013 · Feedback on basic flash technique
  
 
shmn
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p.1 #1 · p.1 #1 · Feedback on basic flash technique


I've started dabbling with off camera speedlights. I'm in the process of reading Light Science and Magic (as well as some other books) and thought I would try out a simple set-up using a ubiquitous gnome. The key light was at camera right at about 45º and higher than the subject with the standard diffuser installed (SB-900) and placed just outside the frame about one foot from subject. I put a large disc reflector on the other side, down low and pointing slightly up. At first I used a silver reflector but it seemed too bright so I used a white diffusion disc which softened up the fill. Pretty basic set-up but I would like some feedback before I proceed with a more "daring" set-up. I plan on getting some light modifiers soon (softbox or umbrella) but want to practice the basics first.








Jan 13, 2013 at 08:50 PM
basehorhonda
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p.1 #2 · p.1 #2 · Feedback on basic flash technique


If your reflector is a 5 in 1 reflector, take off the reflective cover and just shoot through what you have left. It will act as a large softbox/umbrella.


Jan 13, 2013 at 08:53 PM
shmn
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p.1 #3 · p.1 #3 · Feedback on basic flash technique


basehorhonda wrote:
If your reflector is a 5 in 1 reflector, take off the reflective cover and just shoot through what you have left. It will act as a large softbox/umbrella.


That was actually one of the first set-ups I tried. And now looking back, it does have a nicer look.








Jan 13, 2013 at 09:22 PM
Mark_L
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p.1 #4 · p.1 #4 · Feedback on basic flash technique


Your main light looks a bit too low, the shadow from his nose goes almost horizontally over his face (and over his eye slightly) rather than across and down.

He is also pointing right at the camera, for a person you usually want their nose pointing a bit off camera then you have the choice of broad lighting or short lighting (usually preferred) depending on which side you light from.

If you want to test on a real person and have no willing victims use your self timer!



Jan 13, 2013 at 09:47 PM
cgardner
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p.1 #5 · p.1 #5 · Feedback on basic flash technique


When lighitng a human face the height of the key light is dicated by duplicating the downward modeling of natural light and keeping it flattering by getting it past the brow and into the eye sockets. Anything lower that 30 degrees begins to look unnaturally low and flat (unless trying to mimic late afternoon when sun is low) and anything higher will usually cause the brow to shade the orbits on humans. YMMV on ceramic trolls and young kids who don't have fully developed faces.

The expression clues in a portrait come from the mouth and eye area. The nose by comparison could be considered a distraction from those desired focal points. It can be more or less of a distraction depending on how it is lit.

When key light is centered on the nose (and raised 45 degees above the eye-line) both sides of the nose are highlighted and blend into the similarly lit cheeks and perceptually the nose "disappears"; the view isn't likely to notice it consciously (Wow, look at that nose!) or have it become a sub-conscious distraction from the eyes and mouth.

You may have seen the new painting of Princess Kate that's causing a buzz because it's not very flattering. One reason it there's a very dark shadow hanging along the side of the nose. Had she been depicted with centered light there wouldn't be that distraction.

Moving the key light off center causes the nose shadow to fall sideways. On a human nose when the light gets 45 to the side and 45 above it's shadow will fall down along the base of the side with the shadow from the tip often falling exactly over the top of the nostril on the shaded side. That combination is desirable because the brain gets the clues about the 3D size and shape of the nose from the size and shape of the shadow it casts. When the shadow covers 1/2 the nose it accurately models the nose.

Modeling the nose accurately can be a good or bad thing when trying to flatter the subject depending on the nose. A strategy for deailing with a huge nose is to aim it straight at the camera (full face view) and center the key light so it doesn't cast a sideways shadow. The shadow is cast down, and if the camera is raised to look down slightly on the top of the nostrils (not up them) the shadow will often be hidden by the nose.

In a full face view a key light to the side creates an asymmetrical pattern. If you were to compare a naturally symmetrical face with centered and side lighting from 45 degrees. You'll see by comparison the highlighted side nearer the key light will seem larger than the shaded side. It's one of the many optical illusions that fool our brains you should be aware of when lighting a face if the goal is to make it appear symmetrical and slim.

The optical illusion that makes the highlighted face seem bigger in a full face / side lit view is used to advantage in an oblique facial view. Turn the face 45 to the camera but keep the light 45/45 from the nose/eyes behind the subject (90 degrees from camera axis) and the key light will create a "mask" of highlights which the brain will focus on, perceiving the face as being symmetrical and slender, even if it is neither in a full face view. So when you encounter an average human with a face that is lopsided to some degree the oblique angle w. 45/45 key light position one you should try.

The Gnome is not a good subject for learning to light human faces, nor are mannikins, because they usually are endowed by their creator with perfectly symmetrical features.

With humans starting with a full face pose and centered lighting will show you whether or not the face is naturally symmetrical by how the lighting pattern falls. If the net result doesn't look symmetrical it indicates the face is lopsided. If try putting the key light on the narrower side at 45/45 in a full face view (which will create the illusion of better balance), and at 45/45 with the oblique and see if the combination of facial angle + key light angle make the face look more symmetrical. Then try every other combination and compare results. These aren't rules, just conventions based on observation of what combinations are more flattering.

The other variable to discuss is the fill, which controls the tone of the shadows. As mentioned the centered strategy is used in a full face pose to make the nose not be noticed by eliminating the shadow on the side. When you do opt for a lighting with key light to the side and it casts a visible shadow what controls how distracting the shadow will be from eyes and mouth (i.e. making and holding eye contact) it how light or dark it is in the core umbra shadows. The lighter the shadows are the less distracting they are and the better surface blemishes which cast shadows are hidden.

Fill controls the tone of the shadows. Ideally it should come from the front of the subject because place to the side and further back than the tip of the nose the subject's hair and shadow side cheek can shade the fill. If you look critically at your test shot you'll see small areas of very dark shadows in some low spots on the face. Those are the areas where the key light is casting a shadow and some other part of the face (e.g. the cheekbone) shaded the fill.

It's logistically difficult to get a reflector where it will be out in front of the face so it can bounce fill into the smile lines, mouth and base of the nostrils, keep it out of camera view, and where it can catch and reflect the key light. Most position it where it can catch the light and is out of view and it winds up too far back and to the side creating shaded fill those areas.

All things considered it's easier to use a second light for fill, centered and placed about chin level with the subject. From there is creates flat nearly shadowless light on the face, but if you think about it you should realize that's a good thing for fill. If your fill source is casting shadows anywhere you see it's shadow there will be an unfilled void on the subject (if you don't have "spill fill" from your lights bouncing everywhere off the walls and ceiling.

Again I stress there are no rules, just cause and effect so try what I suggest, observe the results from the criteria of whether it makes the face look symmetrical and flattering (no distracting shadows) then try everything else and compare; with one light + reflector and with separate fill and key lights if you have them.


Edited on Jan 14, 2013 at 01:36 PM · View previous versions



Jan 13, 2013 at 10:15 PM
shmn
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p.1 #6 · p.1 #6 · Feedback on basic flash technique


Thanks for the helpful replies. I guess even the most basic set-ups require more forethought than I anticipated. This sure does help.

Mark_L wrote:
If you want to test on a real person and have no willing victims use your self timer!


I wouldn't want to inflict my ugly mug on unsuspecting and innocent bystanders.



Jan 13, 2013 at 10:41 PM
basehorhonda
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p.1 #7 · p.1 #7 · Feedback on basic flash technique


shmn wrote:
Thanks for the helpful replies. I guess even the most basic set-ups require more forethought than I anticipated. This sure does help.

I wouldn't want to inflict my ugly mug on unsuspecting and innocent bystanders.


Then just dont show anyone those photos. Get the photos down with you being the subject and then you can always delete them afterwards.



Jan 14, 2013 at 12:28 AM
BrianO
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p.1 #8 · p.1 #8 · Feedback on basic flash technique


basehorhonda wrote:
If your reflector is a 5 in 1 reflector, take off the reflective cover and just shoot through what you have left. It will act as a large softbox/umbrella.


shmn wrote:
That was actually one of the first set-ups I tried. And now looking back, it does have a nicer look.


The light is still quite hard on this one. How far was the disk from the subject, and how far was the light from the disk?

If the light is right up against the disk, you don't actually get a larger light source, which is what softens light. If you move the diffusion material closer to the subject, but keep the light back, the light will spread before it reaches the diffuser and the diffuser will then act as a large light source, lighting the subject from mutliple angles and giving vary soft light.



Jan 14, 2013 at 03:00 AM
shmn
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p.1 #9 · p.1 #9 · Feedback on basic flash technique


BrianO wrote:
The light is still quite hard on this one. How far was the disk from the subject, and how far was the light from the disk?

If the light is right up against the disk, you don't actually get a larger light source, which is what softens light. If you move the diffusion material closer to the subject, but keep the light back, the light will spread before it reaches the diffuser and the diffuser will then act as a large light source, lighting the subject from mutliple angles and giving vary soft light.


You are right. I had the flash right up against the diffuser and the diffuser was about a foot away from the gnome. I'll try this again like you suggested and increase the flash to diffuser distance. Thanks for the good tips. And thanks to all who have made constructive suggestions. I've learned quite a bit from the feedback.



Jan 14, 2013 at 03:39 AM
DigMeTX
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p.1 #10 · p.1 #10 · Feedback on basic flash technique


Keep in mind as you practice that when you move to lighting actual people the light will be perceived as less soft because part of waht creates softness of light is the size of the light relative to the size of the subject. You can use a 3" diffuser up close to the little troll and it will seem soft but that might be the equivalent of a 24" (or larger) softbox up close to a human face.

brad



Jan 14, 2013 at 03:40 AM
 

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Michael White
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p.1 #11 · p.1 #11 · Feedback on basic flash technique


Are you shooting in manual mode? Lets see if I remember the correct order set up your fill light so you see the shadows then setup the main for lighting he shadows the the accent light to separate from the background . A better book to learn lighting from would be the speed lighters handbook. I consider it the beginners level reading where as the Light Science and Magic book is a very advanced book that goes in to advance theory.


Jan 14, 2013 at 03:44 AM
a.RodriguezPix
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p.1 #12 · p.1 #12 · Feedback on basic flash technique


Good read an d topic.


Jan 14, 2013 at 03:55 AM
BrianO
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p.1 #13 · p.1 #13 · Feedback on basic flash technique


cgardner wrote:
...The Gnome is not a good subject for learning to light human faces, nor are mannikins, because they usually are endowed by their creator with perfectly symmetrical features.


I disagree with this. I think mannequins are an excellent tool for learning to light faces.

Unlike real people, mannequins are infinitely patient, they won't move or change expressions between shots, they won't change makeup or gain/lose weight between sessions, etc. With a mannequin you can be sure that changes you see from shot to shot are the result of lighting changes and only of lighting changes.

One can learn facial analysis, how different lighting patterns work on different shapes of faces, etc. later, but for learning the basics, mannequins are a terrific tool.



Jan 14, 2013 at 04:43 AM
shmn
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p.1 #14 · p.1 #14 · Feedback on basic flash technique


Someone suggested Syl Arena's Speedliter's Handbook as a good beginner's book. I completely agree...I have this book and refer to it often. And even though it's a Canon "Speedlite"-centric book, it works just as well for "Speedlights" (Nikon). I also have some of Joe McNally's books and Scott Kelby's Light It, Shoot It, Retouch It which is also very helpful demonstrating set-ups. And for on-camera flash, I have Neil van Niekerk's On-Camera Flash...which I haven't read yet. I love reading and go through books (and on-line blogs) quickly but "reading" and "doing" are two completely different things. Even with all these experts at my fingertips, you can see that even the simplest of lighting set-ups can be difficult to master...which is why having on-line experts for real-time feedback is invaluable (and much appreciated!).

In any event, I took a couple of more shots incorporating some lessons-learned. I raised the flash higher to about 5' high (subject is on a chair about 3' high). Looking at the photos, I think I could even go higher. I'm using a tripod for the flash as I haven't bought my light-stands yet. The flash is about 4' from the subject in the first three photos and then 6' away in the last photo.

Camera is in manual f/16 at 1/125 and the flash is triggered with an SU-800 (optical trigger, Nikon CLS) using a manual focus 105mm f2.8 micro lens on a D700 (tripod mounted).

First image is bare flash, about 45º. Second image has a 32" diffusion disc about mid-way between flash and subject (about 2' from each). Third image has diffuser disc as close to subject without being in the frame (about 10" away). Fourth image is same as third but flash moved a little father from subject to 6' away. I think the third came out the best. And like I said above, I think I could maybe even raise the flash some more. And moving the flash farther didn't help as the fall-off is evident.


























Jan 14, 2013 at 10:19 PM
BrianO
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p.1 #15 · p.1 #15 · Feedback on basic flash technique


That series is an excellent example of how hard-light versus soft-light is created by source size, and what effect it has on the subject.

By using the statuette on the same background and with the same lens and camera-to-subject distance you can rule out differences in exposure and perspective as accounting for the changes.

Well done.



Jan 14, 2013 at 11:16 PM
cgardner
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p.1 #16 · p.1 #16 · Feedback on basic flash technique


In your latest attempts analyze how the nose shadow is falling. In the first two it is falling into the far eye and out over the cheek covering the "smile line" under the shadow side cheek. In the third the shadow is lighter but it's also placed better in terms of not shading the eye, modeling the nose and not hiding the modeling of the cheekbones. That's a function of the angle of the key light vector changing between 2 and 3 relative to the face. It's difficult to evaluate #4 objectively. It has a pattern similar to #3 but the exposure in the highlights differs so much from the others it skews perception of the overall lighting compared to the others.

When testing like that its difficult to see the cause and effect of what you do if 2-3 variables are changing at the same time. To objectively see what the strategy is doing in the shadows you need to keep the highlights exposed similarly in all the shots out of camera. To more objectively judge the overall perception of a variable like distance of the modifier you need to keep the light on the same vector so the pattern doesn't change. Just the difference in how the shadow hangs off the nose in 2 vs. 3 would change the impression holistic impression of the lighting because the shadows are not noticed as much in 3 because they are better placed on the face.

It also helps to take a wide shot of each strategy so you can see where light is bouncing off walls and ceilings into the shadow side. As you change distance of a source it's footprint gets bigger and may hit the ceiling more. When you use a flat disk as diffuser you are bouncing as much light back behind the light as you are forward. All those variables affect what you see in the final result and can lead to incorrect conclusions about the cause and effect of what you think changed.

The overall strategy used, putting diffuser between light and subject, is effective here on the small subject but isn't one that would be easy to implement and control with the same results on a larger human subject.

Other strategies you might try for comparison are key light + reflectors of various sizes to the side and forward on the shadow side, two lights in a key over centered fill configuration, or bouncing the light(s) off walls or ceiling which creates both a downward "key" vector that models and also generates a lot of wrapping "spill fill" off the walls. When you move on to larger life subjects you'll find any of those strategies are more scalable with hot shoe flash.



Jan 15, 2013 at 01:01 AM
shmn
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p.1 #17 · p.1 #17 · Feedback on basic flash technique


BrianO wrote:
That series is an excellent example of how hard-light versus soft-light is created by source size, and what effect it has on the subject.


Thanks Brian. I appreciate your help.

cgardner wrote:
Other strategies you might try for comparison are key light + reflectors of various sizes to the side and forward on the shadow side, two lights in a key over centered fill configuration, or bouncing the light(s) off walls or ceiling which creates both a downward "key" vector that models and also generates a lot of wrapping "spill fill" off the walls. When you move on to larger life subjects you'll find any of those strategies are more scalable with hot shoe flash.


I have three SB-900s so I do have flexibility and expansion. However, I found that when I tried to use all three Speedlights, I wasn't getting the results I wanted...even after reading all those excellent books. So, I figure I better get the hang of one light and learn to use it effectively before introducing others. Plus, I'm going to get a couple of stands and a larger reflector/diffuser and maybe a large modifier (eventually) which will help with the physical set-ups. Thanks for your help and suggestions.



Jan 15, 2013 at 02:20 AM
cgardner
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p.1 #18 · p.1 #18 · Feedback on basic flash technique


shmn wrote:
have three SB-900s so I do have flexibility and expansion. However, I found that when I tried to use all three Speedlights, I wasn't getting the results I wanted...even after reading all those excellent books. So, I figure I better get the hang of one light and learn to use it effectively before introducing others.


The technical shortcoming of digital sensors (and color films) is not being able to handle the contrast created by sunlight outdoors (where there is skylight fill) or indoors when direct flash is used off axis and there's no bounced "spill fill" off walls and ceilings back into the shadows. That's why when exposure is set for the highlght detail the midtones and shadows wind up darker than seen by eye.

What using two flashes in a key over even fill does is change the scene range where it hits to fit the fixed range of the sensor. Adding a third flash before understanding how to do that with two WILL confuse you.

Visualize this cause and effect with two flashes, then try it:

Start in a dark room with the lens set at f/5.6 and throw a white suit and black suit over a chair Put the Mr. Gnome on top of them if you'd like


1) With just the flash on camera over the lens raise manual power until detail is seen in the folds of the black suit.

That's not how you'd typically set lights but it will show the role fill needs to play in a two flash scenario. The resulting shot will be flat (no modeling) except for any highlight reflections off the higher parts bouncing back to the camera and underexposed (white shirt will be gray) because fill is set for the shadow detail, nothing else. But that's exactly what you want for fill; even shadowless light. The goal here with fill is to just lay down an even foundation to build the key lighting pattern on, not model the object with directional lighting.

2) Once fill is revealing the shadow detail at f/5.6 raise power of the off axis "key" light. The parts of the 3D objects the key light hits will get brighter. Keep raising the manual power level until you start to see clipping in the brightest highlights in the playback warning (i.e. the blown highlights black out in the playback). Since we want detail in those highlights back off the key flash power one-click (1/3 stop).

What you will do with those two simple steps is arrive at "optimal" exposure where both shadows and highlights are reproduced with detail as typically seen by eye in person. The lighting on Mr. Gnome will unremarkably normal because everything in the middle between solid white and black will be rendered as typically seen by eye. That happens automatically when you get the two ends of the scale exposed correctly because it's how the process is engineered to work.

What makes it easy to fit scene to sensor with two flashes it the ability to independently control the fill intensity and angle, keeping it as shadowless as possible from near camera axis to avoid unfilled areas, and being able to adjust it easily to the point your sensor, at whatever f/stop you select, is recording detail above the noise threshold (the rainbow speckling seen in dark shadows) of the sensor.

If you were to do the test outdoors at light where there is no bounced "spill" fill you wound not see the core shadow tone change at all as key light is added. Indoors in an average room when you turn on the key light and raise it some of it will be bouncing off walls and ceiling and will make the shadows lighter than they were with your camera fill alone. That's just a variable you need to be aware of when setting the lighting ratio.

One you try this and see how easy it is with two flashes with key overlapping even fill turn off the fill light, grab your reflector and try to get the same results. That will work also, but you may find the reflector fill shaded in some low area shadows because it's off axis.

Next try the CLS system with two flashes. The thing to grasp about CLS ratios is that only one of them will fit scene to sensor range exactly and you need to experiment to find it. The constant for the test is how you expose the highlights, just below clipping via the playback warning. The variable is the Master (fill): Slave (key) ratio you set on the flash.

With the same targets, aperture and camera/flash positions set the ratio master and slave are equal (1:1) then adjust FEC (flash exposure compensation) until highlights on the white shirt are one click (1/3 stop) below clipping. Next change the ratio so master is 2x greater than fill. CLS will reduce fill power and at the same time increase key power to keep the highlights the same. The net effect you will see is the same highlight exposure and pattern with darker shadows. But don't expect CLS to do this perfectly every time. You need to monitor the exposure via the playback and may need to adjust FEC if CLS doesn't not keep the highlight exposure the same as in the 1:1 shot. Run the table on the ratios making the key 3, 4, 5... 8 times brighter and see what the results are.

I did a similar test the first day I got my Canon flashes back in 2004:






I set up the white binder so the centered group A master fill over the camera on my bracket hit both sides and the group B slave key only hit the right side. I started at 1:1 and adjusted FEC to get the highlights below clipping (leaving headroom for overexposure in this test) then change the ratio without doing any FEC compensation to see how consistent the metering would keep the highlights as the shadows changed.

The ratios in the top row all look pretty similar because in all of them the group A fill overpowers the group B key light. At 1:1 setting both sides of the binder get 1 fill and the right side gets 1 fill + 1 key, a 2:1 reflected highlight:shadow ratio. In the bottom row key light is progressively increased and the fill progressively decreased automatically. The metering keeps the highlights consistent as it makes the shadows darker. From 1:1 to 1:8 (fill:key) the eyedropper reading on the highlighted side varied from 227 to 232, a 5 point variation. That's a 1/6th stop difference in exposure variation.

If you try a similar test and examine the files you'll see at some point the shadows get so dark the detail in the black suit is lost. That's the ratio which exceeds your sensors range. The one that fits the sensor perfectly will have detail in the shadow and highlights and like the manual test above everything in the middle will look very normal, as seen by eye.

This test shot for a portrait session is typical of the results when ratio is set for a full range of detail:





Note the right and left sides of the histogram (from Levels in the SOOC file). The just barely kiss the edges indicating that few if any highlights or shadows are being lost.

The ratio numerically? For that shot I set my lights manually both at 1/2 power with key at 5.5 ft (my arm span) and fill at 8ft over the camera on a bracket where I shot from. The difference in distance between key and fill make key 2x brighter resulting in a 2+1:1 highlight:shadow REFLECTED ratio.

To get the same results using my Canon ETTL ratios would set the ratio to 1:2. As above that also makes key 2x brighter than fill at the subject (incident) producing the same 2+1:1 = 3:1 reflected ratio the camera sensor records.

Want a "softer" look? Here's the same file with a small Levels correction with the middle slider....







What the middle slider does is shift the midtones without changing the highlights or shadows much. Once the full range of detail is recorded at capture there are many ways to manipulate the detail in Photoshop that will change the holistic perception of "hard" and "soft". The modifiers I used for that shot were very small, about 8" in diameter.









Jan 15, 2013 at 02:25 PM
Mark_L
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p.1 #19 · p.1 #19 · Feedback on basic flash technique


Height is better but your flash is too far of axis, the shadow of the nose is going over the eye. The furthest off axis you ever really want to go is with the nose shadow just joining the cheek shadow (rembrandt lighting), more usually you’d want the nose shadow separate from the cheek shadow (loop lighting).

Practice loop, rembrandt and butterfly light (these are in your book or use google) with bare flash as soft light covers a multitude of sins lighting-wise. Then practice the first two as broad and short light. Do this before adding any other lights.

I would start practicing on a human asap to get an idea of the quality of light different sizes of light sources give on this size of subject and what kinds of catchlights they give in the eyes.



Jan 16, 2013 at 01:03 PM
Michael White
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p.1 #20 · p.1 #20 · Feedback on basic flash technique


When placing lights do so that they appear as natural light. The main light sould be high why the sun, our most referenced light, is high in the sky. Joe McNally's books not only show great images and usuall there's a drawing showing how everything was used to archive this image but in the notes Joe tells you what he was thinking and why . That info combined with seeing the image a looking at the drawing allows me to but everything together and I've learned so much from joes books,classes and demonstrations. He can talk about warp speed so I amagine that his thoughts are constantly going twice that.


Jan 17, 2013 at 10:58 AM
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