If you were to have a look through my Bride and Groom portraits section of my online portfolio I think it’s quite clear to see I love my off camera lighting and to be honest it’s not as daunting to do as you may think. I tend to use it at every wedding, no matter if it’s night, dusk, sunset or middle of the afternoon. I find the crisp clean lighting allows a far nicer result to the image and with the stunning sunset backdrop it will give you far greater creativity and a powerful finish to your image.
It does indeed depend to a degree on what camera gear you have, like the obvious need for a flashgun, which can be very cheap to get these days with the likes of the very awesome Shanny that has entered my kit bag. It does everything my big Nikon Flashguns can do but at a fraction of the price.
So what exactly is needed. A camera, a flash, and a way to trigger it. My own experiences are with Nikon so I can’t speak for the way other brands will allow you to remotely trigger your flash, but Nikon can trigger your flash remotely via CLS (Creative Lighting System) It works, but is basic in its technology as it requires a line of sight between camera and flash, just like your TV and TV remote control do. I would assume all the other major brands have similar ways of working.
Another limitation to CLS can be daylight, even with a good line of sight. If the distance between camera and flash is too big then the flash sensor may simply not see the command flash from the camera because the ambient light is to bright. So the ideal way to trigger the flash will be via remote triggers. I use Phottix Odins, but you could have the Yongnuo’s or Pocket Wizard’s.
Next you need your backdrop. If it’s the middle of the day then you kinda at the mercy of how bright the ambient light is and how powerful your flashgun is. Ideally you would need to take your subject to a shady area to work in, like under a tree. However, if the ambient light is dropping off then you are pretty much good to go whatever your backdrop.
So my backdrop last week was the south coast looking out towards the Isle Of Wight at Bracklesham Bay. We had a week away with the kids, so much needed family time, but my dedication to keeping at the editing meant I took my computers with me. Anyway, one evening it was apparent that a decent sunset was well under way so I got the kids sorted quickly and dragged them onto the beach, with the help of the wife, who was about to become my voice activated light stand.
First job. Get the camera set.
I quickly realised all my triggers were back here in the studio so I reverted to using CLS and so entered the menu system to change the pop up flash from TTL to Commander and then set about setting up the camera for the ambient light.
Firstly I set the camera to manual, then shift the ISO to 200, so the resulting image would be noise free, nice and clean. I then set the shutter speed to 1/160th. The reason being is that I knew I was going to do this blog and wanted to remain within the boundaries that those who don’t have HSS (High Speed Sync) would face. So I kept the shutter speed beneath the camera/flash sync speed and then I went to the aperture and I set that by how I wanted the final exposure to be. In this case I found my way to f/6.3 and it gave me the exposure you see below. For me it’s ideal. We see good detail in the foreground, though slightly under exposed and good detail across the water and slight over exposure in the sky. I could have gone very underexposed to make it far more dramatic but I wanted to keep the detail that we see in the image and give myself the option to easily edit the images any which way I would want to afterwards.
Now the camera is set, don’t touch any settings again, don’t make the mistake of moving any of those control dials.
So next we are onto the flash. Purists will say this is where we bring out the light meter, but you camera has an awesome alternative, the screen on the back of your camera. Whilst its not perfect, it will give you a darn good clue as to what you need to be doing with the flash.
With the flash in Manual, I will simply set it to 1/4 power and take a test shot, then view it on the back of the camera. Use your own judgement to assess if you need the flash to be brighter or darker and then adjust the power accordingly, or, if its only a tweak of the power that is needed you could move the flash closer or further away to suit.
Once you have that flash set and the blend of artificial and ambient light is perfect get cracking as that sunset won’t last long.
Obviously the ambient light will start to dip off, and to be honest I wouldn’t change a thing for a short while as the the darkening of the background will give you differently creative results to when you started, but, when it gets to that point that you want to adjust to brighten up the background, don’t touch the shutter speed or ISO, just open up that aperture. Head to f/4 for example, you’ll now be letting in a lot more light again, but you may well have to adjust the power of the flash down a tad or move it away. If you can’t open up your aperture any further as you’ve reached its widest, then you can bump up the ISO and readjust the aperture to suit your backdrop, then adjust your flash again.
That’s basically it, and whilst there are some limitations, like the max power of your flash on very bright days, or shutting down your aperture to far or using a shutter speed that is beyond the sync speed, in most cases all you need to remember is, set your camera, keep the shutter speed at or under the sync speed, then set the power of your flash, and shoot away. That’s how simple it is to be creative with your off camera flash.
These images here have had the same base settings as the first image above but have been edited mildly to add a little punch, saturation. I use the radial filter in Lightroom to surround the subject then make mild adjustments to their surroundings and an adjustment brush to make localised edits to the stones on the beach or across the water etc.
Well, have fun with the off camera flash shooting, and keep practising it, as that method of shooting will soon set in as the way to do it and will deliver you the creative images you really want.