Beach portraits with minimal equipment....
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die_kruzen
Registered: Apr 27, 2010
Total Posts: 197
Country: United States

Hello all. The family has planned a trip to the Outer Banks this year and I really want to take some photos of the kids/wife during sunrise/sunset. I will practice as much as possible before leaving for the trip…but I am looking for some good lighting tips. Most likely I will simply have one flash (Canon 430 - can be used off camera) and handheld circular reflector with me…but that is probably about it. Any thoughts on how or if I could get it done with just the barest equipment?

Thank in advance all, Pete



BrianO
Registered: Aug 21, 2008
Total Posts: 8547
Country: United States

It sounds like you're on the right track.

For minimal equipment, metering for the sunrise/sunset, dialing in -1/3 to -1/2 EC, and then using an off-camera Speedlite to bring up the subject's lighting would work well.

You might want to get a gel or a gold Sto-Fen (I use the latter) for the flash to warm it up a bit so it matches the lighting, but other than that you've got all you need.

http://www.stofen.com/store/coloromni.asp



BrianO
Registered: Aug 21, 2008
Total Posts: 8547
Country: United States

BTW, Tim Mantoani includes a sunset beach shoot in his video on Canon flash, available here:

http://bluecranedigital.com/Understanding-the-Canon-Speedlite-580EX-II-430EX-II

It's just one segment out of several, but it might be helpful for you.



die_kruzen
Registered: Apr 27, 2010
Total Posts: 197
Country: United States

As usual...great info Brian..I will pickup one of the Sto-Fen diffusers. I have the 'cloudy' white one...but the gold could be interesting. I will take a look at the video...thanks for the link. I have another question. Right now...I have a 430 that is controlled (off camera when necessary) with a CyberCommander. If I went ahead and picked up a 580 and put that on camera and had the 430 off...do I need anything else...like the CyberCommander? Or, will the just simply 'talk' to each other and therefore negate the need for the CyberCommander?

Thanks again,

Pete



BrianO
Registered: Aug 21, 2008
Total Posts: 8547
Country: United States

die_kruzen wrote: ...I have a 430 that is controlled (off camera when necessary) with a CyberCommander. If I went ahead and picked up a 580 and put that on camera and had the 430 off...do I need anything else...like the CyberCommander? Or, will the just simply 'talk' to each other and therefore negate the need for the CyberCommander?

The 580 can act as a Master and will send all the needed metering and triggering info to the 430 Slave. (In fact, some Canon cameras can use the pop-up flash as Master, so a 580 wouldn't be needed.)

I will often use the on-camera Speedlite as the Master and have it set not to fire for exposure, and I'll swivel the head to point directly at my off-camera Speedlite; doing that, I can get 25-feet or more of range from the camera to the flash reliably. That's not as good as most radio triggers, but it's usually enough for the way I shoot.

The Blue Crane video goes into Master/Slave flash extensively, which is good because it can be a bit intimidating at first. Once you practice a bit, though, it's great because you can use ETTL autoflash or Manual flash with or without Flash Exposure Compensation at your discretion, and all the Slaves will follow along just as if they were mounted on camera.



cgardner
Registered: Nov 18, 2002
Total Posts: 9376
Country: United States

Situations like portraits with a sunset in the background are a situation similar to sun and open shade. The background is very warm in tone, but the ambient light on the faces is cooler in tone because the light is reflecting off the atmosphere as is does in open shade. The mix changes as the sun sets.

In any lighting situation our brains adjust perception to "normalize" what we see based on expectations. So even in that situation your brain knowing what the faces normally look like will adjust to "normalize" them in ways the camera can't duplicate. But if you shoot with RAW you can adjust the balance on the faces to taste after the fact in post processing rather than try to guess and create the balance with gels, diffusers, etc.

Consider this baseline scenario of setting camera WB to daylight and shooting ambient. From the baseline of the Daylight WB the sunset will appear as you see it by eye, warm. But the faces in the relfected skylight will be rendered with a cool bias as in open shade. What would you do if shooting in open shade to get more normal skintones? Set WB to Cloudy. That would normalize the faces similar to the way the brain adapts your vision in the shadows. That shift in WB baseline will warm the background more, but with a sunset that works quite well.

Using flash in the same scenario is similar in cause and effect because the color temp of flash and open shade is similar. Shooting from the baseline of Daylight WB a flash assisted shot SOOC would look abnormally cool on the faces even in noon day sun. Compared to the warm background context of the setting sun they will look even cooler. One solution would be to gel the flash warmer, or and a warming diffuser but that will cut flash power. A simpler and more effiecient means to the same end — more normal skintones — is to simply shift the WB baseline of the camera to make the faces appear neutral. Set the the WB to flash, or Custom WB off a gray card held in the combined skylight and flash lighting.

Setting the WB for gray card neutral will render the faces "daylight normal" SOOC and the background warmer than you see it by eye. That's not the final balance you want, just a means to predict and control the results at capture. After setting WB off the gray card have one of your famlily members hold it under their face and shoot a reference shot. When you download the shots to the computer for editing open that shot first to evaluate and adjust. At noon on the beach that neutral face would look perfectly normal but against the background of the setting sun it will look too cool. It fix that problem simply tweek the blue/yellow "temperature" slider of the RAW editor until the tone of the face matches your impression by eye — adjust until it looks "right".

What you will find is that the amount of background seen around the face affects the perception of the WB of the face. In a wide full length shot of the family a warm bias will seem normal and in context. But if you take a tight headshot without much background that same warm bias can look too warm. Why? The context of what is causing the other than normal coloration isn't seen in the photo.

The difference in appearance is a result of what happens between the ears of the viewer as the brain looks at the clues in the photo and matches face with context. It the same cause and effect as a flash shot looking too cool against a sunny background, but in reverse. Against the background of the setting sun warmer than normal faces seen normal. But the less of the background you show in the shots the more you'll want to shift the WB on the faces more towards neutral.

It's because "normal" is such a moving target perceptually and is affected by background context I use the strategy I suggest above for portraits. I always capture the faces from a "neutral" baseline which is to say "mid day normal" then adjust to taste by eye when editing and seeing the face in the context of the background lighting. It simplifies things when shooting because I'm always using similar procedures and equipment. It makes editing more consistent because my first impression of the image on screen is from a baseline I know is netural. From that baseline it takes about a minute to decide how to adjust the test shot with the card reference then copy/paste its adjustments into the other RAW files.

The best strategy for adding flash outdoors is to make note of how the natural light is modeling the faces then add flash from the same angle. At sunset with backs to the sun the modeling will come from the sky above. Pay attention to the eye sockets. Even in open shade and backlight the brow will shade the eyes. To prevent that find a higher vantage point. At the beach I often use the lifeguard chairs to get the faces up into the light, or stand higher on a dune looking down.

Once you get the natural light in the eyes you'll want to add the flash from the same downward angle using a bracket of stand. If you don't the flat angle of the flash will cancel the modeling of the skylight.

The simplest and most effective lighting strategy for groups is centered lighting so you should be able to do OK with one flash. If two are used place them vertically in a high / low centered pattern with the fill around chin level and the key overhead. Whether or not a second flash is needed for fill is also a judgement call based on how the skylight fills the shadows. Better to have a second fill flash set up and find you don't need it than not to have one.

I've got tutorials on both ETTL and Manual control with Canon flash (click the WWW button below). In that situation the sake of consistency and predictability I'd suggest an all manual approach for camera and flash. Set the camera based on background and then dial in flash power manually until the flash lit front in balance.

When a single flash is raised to match the angle of the skylight it acts as secondary key light. So for exposure set shutter below sync and aperture for background exposure and then raise flash power until the flash lit highlights on the front are in balance with the background rim lighting. The balance is a judgement call made by eye. If you keep the clipping warning on in the camera and first raise the flash to the point you see clipping on the shaded skylit front side you'll have an exact match. What looks more perceptually correct is when the flash lit side is about 1/3 to 2/3 darker. So a simple route to correct highlight flash exposure is to raise to the point clipping is seen then back off 1 or 2 clicks on the flash power.

With two flashes used as key and fill adjust the fill based on shadow detail then adjust the key flash as above about 2/3 stops below clipping.








BrianO
Registered: Aug 21, 2008
Total Posts: 8547
Country: United States

cgardner wrote: ...Shooting from the baseline of Daylight WB a flash assisted shot SOOC would look abnormally cool on the faces even in noon day sun. Compared to the warm background context of the setting sun they will look even cooler. One solution would be to gel the flash warmer, or and a warming diffuser but that will cut flash power. A simpler and more effiecient means to the same end — more normal skintones — is to simply shift the WB baseline of the camera to make the faces appear neutral. Set the the WB to flash...

In my experience, just changing the white balance is not the best strategy, because you still have a considerable subject/background color imbalance.

Using a gel on the flash to bring the two closer together, and then making final adjustments in post is, in my opinion, a better way to do it.

Also, in a sunset shot I don't know that I'd set the faces to "neutral." A slightly-warmer-than-normal color balance would look better to me, because it would match what my brain expects to see in a sunset portrait.



dmacmillan
Registered: Nov 03, 2007
Total Posts: 4729
Country: United States

die_kruzen wrote:
If I went ahead and picked up a 580 and put that on camera and had the 430 off...do I need anything else...like the CyberCommander? Or, will the just simply 'talk' to each other and therefore negate the need for the CyberCommander?

Thanks again,

Pete

Pete,
What happened to the "minimal equipment" in the title?

Personally, I think with a little planning and one reflector you can do quite well. I have seen very few beach photos with flash that I liked. Usually the multiple sources of light is too obvious.

Also, too many feel the need to have the sun in the photo. I find that some of the most gorgeous light is right after sunset. With fast lenses and clean high ISO, it's much easier to capture them.

Spend the first part of the week scouting. Wait until everyone has gotten their tan and shoot the last day or two of the trip.



RustyBug
Registered: Feb 02, 2009
Total Posts: 12950
Country: United States

When faced with backlit subjects I tend to set my flash to about - 2/3 to -1 1/3. This helps keep the natural look and doesn't overly cool the subject vs. the BG. If you meter behind you subject and in front of a "test subject", you'll typically see around 2 1/2 - 3 stops difference. The - 1 1/3 fill kinda splits the difference @ both illumination and color temp differences between subject and BG.

Food for thought ... pretty simple and unencumbered even if "on camera" or off axis. Something you might want to "test" to your "taste" prior to your outing. Kinda depends on how simple vs. elaborate you want to approach it.



Bruce Sawle
Registered: Sep 26, 2006
Total Posts: 4164
Country: United States

I personaly would use a large white reflector. Trying to set up a strobe and having to dial in the correct settings all the while trying to enjoy the moment will be difficult. A large white reflector is miamalistic and should give you nice light if the sun is not to far gone.



cgardner
Registered: Nov 18, 2002
Total Posts: 9376
Country: United States

Gelling flash to match requires testing to find the best match. It presumes you are starting from a baseline of Daylight WB which will make the flash appear cooler because it's color temp is 6000K vs 5200K, an 800K difference. But that presumes Daylight WB is best baseline for rendering a sunset.

The color temp of the sunset changes as the sun sets so its a moving target. What you don't want to be a moving target at capture is the rendering of the faces. CAPTURING the faces from the neutral baseline is simply a starting point you can verify with the eyedropper tool in the test image containing the card. As mentioned from that SOOC starting point in the editing process you would then want to adjust the WB warmer from neutral until it looks in balance with however much background is showing and influencing overall balance. The influence of the background also makes the balance on the faces a moving target which can be more objectively evaluated from the neutral capture baseline.

Doug has never seen any outdoor flash assisted shot he likes. What makes flash obvious is when the specular highlights wind up in places you normally don't see them in natural light. That's why a critical part of the overall workflow when using flash outdoors is to first pose the faces in a flattering way to the natural light (i.e. get it in the eyes with front of face highlighted) the add flash from a similar angle, about 45° above the eye line which is the angle needed to get it past the brow. When the flash gets much lower than 30° above the eye line the highlights start to move down on the cheekbones giving it the obviously fake look Doug dislikes.

A single source works best outdoors for the reason Doug states. Multiple sources create a multitude of highlights. I shoot the majority of my outdoor shots with a single 580ex flash on a bracket. When combined with finding a higher POV and shooting down on upturned faces the angle of the single flash and the skylight complement each other. Fill is limited to what the skylight was providing in the shadows before the flash is added, but in a full face pose nearly everything is highlighted. The shadows that do appear fall on the sides of the faces which work to frame and make them look less wide compared to how they look full face in flat on-camera flash lighting.



dmacmillan
Registered: Nov 03, 2007
Total Posts: 4729
Country: United States

cgardner wrote:


Doug has never seen any outdoor flash assisted shot he likes.

Ah, no. Not true. Like you stated later, I don't like poorly executed or obviously filled, which accounts for the vast majority of what I see.

BTW, you got upset at a poster in another thread today for "editorializing" on your post. Funny, your comment about my post is a perfect example of editorializing. If you can't take it, don't dish it out.



Mark_L
Registered: Sep 28, 2010
Total Posts: 2422
Country: United Kingdom

Sunrise and sunset = ideal lighting. I wouldn't use any flash or additional lighting at all. Use it as main light or backlight and it will look great.



cgardner
Registered: Nov 18, 2002
Total Posts: 9376
Country: United States

dmacmillan wrote:
cgardner wrote:


Doug has never seen any outdoor flash assisted shot he likes.

Ah, no. Not true. Like you stated later, I don't like poorly executed or obviously filled, which accounts for the vast majority of what I see.

BTW, you got upset at a poster in another thread today for "editorializing" on your post. Funny, your comment about my post is a perfect example of editorializing. If you can't take it, don't dish it out.


That's more along the lines putting your comment into context for a new poster. In the ten years we've share opinions in threads like this you have often stated a distain for flash assisted lighting in general so why should a sunset shot be any exception? While I respect your preference for natural lighting I have never seen your examples of obtaining superior results that way in situations where I find flash useful. I'd post the shots but you've seen them before . Got any group shots at sunset taken with a reflector you can post?



BrianO
Registered: Aug 21, 2008
Total Posts: 8547
Country: United States

cgardner wrote: Gelling flash to match requires testing to find the best match.

Yes, and if you're doing product photography a "best match" can be critical. For shooting a portrait at sunset, getting the two closer together than they would be without a gel is usually all that's required.

cgardner wrote: ...What you don't want to be a moving target at capture is the rendering of the faces.

True, which is why I don't change from one gel to another in the middle of a portrait session. I use either none or the same one; my rendering of the faces, lit by flash, is thus constant.



RustyBug
Registered: Feb 02, 2009
Total Posts: 12950
Country: United States

BrianO wrote:
getting the two closer together than they would be without a gel is usually all that's required.


+1 @ a splash of 6000K flash bridges the gap between 4000K & 8000K

http://www.cambridgeincolour.com/tutorials/white-balance.htm



Paul_K
Registered: Jul 22, 2010
Total Posts: 124
Country: Netherlands

IMO a beach portrait with minimal equipment should automatically exclude using a flash

To make the flash get in balance with the availible light will demand of camera flash, triggers, careful metering etc. while from a picturewise point of view, the risk of too much flash and thus burning out the 'normal' light is more then just imaginary.

My set up would be just a camera, a longish lens and a simple white reflector, as the reflection/fill of gold and/or silver one will very easily be too hard

http://www.pbase.com/paul_k/image/61044443



die_kruzen
Registered: Apr 27, 2010
Total Posts: 197
Country: United States

Hello all, and thanks for the continued information. See, I was always under the impression you needed a flash at that time to illuminate the subjects better...perhaps that is not the case. I did order the Sto-Fen Brian suggested. Interested too see the difference when using the gold one instead of the 'hazy' white one I had. I can also see using that well beyond this 'project'.

As I side...I do need to look into adding a 580 flash or the like. I don't mind using the Cybercommander as it's worked well. But, would be nice not to have to deal with the 'wires' and the like.

Regarding using a reflector only..I have one, but it's only about 3 feet in diameter. It's fairly small when looking at other, available reflectors. I really haven't used one much since it requires and assistant for the most part. I will drag the wife and kids out and give it a try prior to vacation.

Regarding the taking the minimal time setting up...can't agree more. My kids are fairly young (6 and 11) and if they see anything on the beach while trying to set up (sand crab, seagull...anything they of off chasing it around). So, getting set up in a minimal amount of time is very important also.


Point taken about the 'minimal' equipment...that maybe it's not so minimal. But, when I hear some of the gear people take with them on vacation...I think wow, I hardly pack anything.


This is a fairly good example of what I would like to achieve (at least for one shot) - at least it's during the right time of the day. Does look like it uses a flash, but I am okay with either the flash or the diffuser:

http://www.google.com/imgres?start=378&hl=en&sa=X&biw=1099&bih=591&tbm=isch&prmd=imvns&tbnid=brOWJNSzieGkxM:&imgrefurl=http://www.pixoto.com/rnleones&docid=twWKhLTV8VN5BM&imgurl=http://lh5.ggpht.com/oB4aXnydkeucC2ygZQWP_zb9PoUJJELL72ir4Wqiik0XuXHMqwLSO5fUa7KhagabG03fxmwsoDqAWteXvTvr9z8%253Ds285-c&w=285&h=285&ei=WW35T7qfAsnO2wXl7rTfAg&zoom=1



RustyBug
Registered: Feb 02, 2009
Total Posts: 12950
Country: United States

Paul_K wrote:
IMO a beach portrait with minimal equipment should automatically exclude using a flash

To make the flash get in balance with the availible light will demand of camera flash, triggers, careful metering etc. while from a picturewise point of view, the risk of too much flash and thus burning out the 'normal' light is more then just imaginary.

My set up would be just a camera, a longish lens and a simple white reflector, as the reflection/fill of gold and/or silver one will very easily be too hard

http://www.pbase.com/paul_k/image/61044443


You mention a simple white reflector ...

A white reflector will generate a fill with a stop or so less light and the fill light will be approximately the same color as the BG (warm) or sky (cool) light it is reflecting depending on orientation.

Using a flash set to -1 1/3 will proved a similar amount of fill light and can be easier to manage than handling a reflector. Of course, the reflector will let you "see" your fill, but it comes at a the price of "handling" encumbrance, where as the flash can be mounted (on or off axis) with the camera.

As to the color difference, if the reduced power setting isn't enough for your taste @ color balance, a warming gel can easily get your closer. I just find that without an assistant I prefer the freedom of movement the flash provides vs. trying to manage both camera & reflector. If he's got an extra set of hands that could make a difference.

I guess it would help if the OP could clarify if he is planning on shooting more formal outdoor studio style portraiture or informal PJ mobility style. That could have significant bearing on how to approach his "minimal" equipment.

I could see flash with an "on flash" bounce card & gel ... set to -1 1/3 ... pretty simple and very mobile for spontaneity. Or no gel and raise your WB a bit above that of electronic flash (which will intensify your bg warmth and put a slight warmth @ subject.

Very subjective correlated to your goals. Several ways to skin this cat ... but pre-testing is sage.


I'm a bit curious @ the "longish lens" (farther from subjects) and reflector (closer to subjects) combination strategy ... can you clarify how you'll be managing the two (assistant, stand, tripod, remote, timer, etc.)?



die_kruzen
Registered: Apr 27, 2010
Total Posts: 197
Country: United States

Again, thanks for the comments all. These are very informal portraits and again they will primarily be just the kid(s). If it comes down to a flash I will have that probably bare, triggered by Cybercommanders sitting on a monopod pushed into the sand (gelled if appropriate)..... If it's a reflector my wife will need to hold it. So, if it's just me and the kids it will be the flash. If my wife is there...we have the option of a reflector. My first goal is to get out shooting and understand what it takes in both scenarios. From that..I will most likely learn which I prefer or at least should try first. As a side, bounce has been mentioned. I have a reflector with a white side and silver. Would it be worth having my wife hold the reflector where I could bounce the flash from it onto the subjects? So, I would probably have the flash planted somewhere and the reflector very close behind it and have it bounce to the subjects? My thought is I may need something else like foam board for this...but not sure. I do have to get out and practice...

Thanks, Pete



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