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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Lazy Day: Key vs. Fill Lighting (Continued)

shot at 46mm, ISO 200, f/4.5, 1/250th of a sec, strobe 3ft way, 1/64 pwr
Summarizing today's post: Off-camera lighting, adding fill lighting to your key light, & solving problems with contrast.

It was a lazy Sunday. Not too many times my wife and I have the same day off together...and we made the best of it. Lazing around, snuggling up with the pussycats, and watching movies was the order of the day. When I saw Pinky and Penelope all wrapped up together in bed -- in the middle of the day, mind you -- well, you know me...I had to capture the moment.

I wanted to upload a couple of photos today to give you another example of how to use your on-camera flash (the only time I suggest you use that little built-in flash you've got) as fill lighting. Nothing new today, just going a little further with my last post "Key vs. Fill Lighting" (see here).

So back to Pinky and Penelope. 

The first picture I took (which is not shown here) was with ambient lighting only just to see what I could get. There is a window right beside the bed which was pouring in right much light (it really was the middle of the day). With my shutter speed set at a 13th of a second (pretty slow) while at ISO 200, I could obtain the proper exposure. The problem was this...they were not facing the window, hence Pinky's face was too dark, and the kitty cat was in the shadow of the bed sheet. Bummer. What to do?

I could have done several things (always nice to have the ability to utilize multiple solutions to your lighting problems just in case one doesn't produce the desired results). But what did I do? Well, I used this priceless opportunity to expound a bit on our topic at hand of course!

First, I "turned off" the ambient light. How did I do that? Did I close the blinds? Nope. I simply cranked up my shutter speed to 1/250th of a second. I clicked a test shot, and sure enough everything was almost completely black. Now I had complete control to use my own light sources. [This is why I encourage you to use the manual controls on your camera because it allows YOU to decide how to solve your problems the way YOU want. Neat.]

Next, I set up a strobe to camera left about 3 feet away and set it on 1/64th power capacity. I used nothing to soften the light, just used the bare flash head. (I did this because I wanted those hard shadow lines to appear to show you what I am about to "fix".) Okay, first photo (above) looks good, properly exposed at an aperture of f/4.5. 

Now, in any setup like this -- with one small, hard light source -- you inevitably are going to have a lot of contrast in your photo. What I mean by that is dark shadows will be there. Contrast is okay at times if that's the look you are going for. Most times however, you'll want to soften those shadows a bit. Time to problem-solve. The easiest way I can think of to lessen those dark areas is utilize our new-found knowledge of fill lighting!

shot at 48mm, ISO 200, f/4.5, 1/250th of a sec, fill added at 1/64 pwr
Second shot. With everything else the same, I have added a little fill lighting using my small, built-in, on-camera flash, set also at 1/64th power.

So what's different? Well, two things...only one is a result of my fill lighting. Pinky is now smiling at me because she realizes I am taking pictures of her (oh, "there he goes again"). That's the first. The other thing that's different is the contrast in the photo has been taken down a bit, which is what I'm after. The main two points of reference where this can be noticed: the shadows cast on the pillow by Penelope's ear, and also the one cast by sheet just below Pinky's chin. Those shadows, while still there, are softened. Not as hard. Look back and forth at the two photographs and you'll see the difference. Nice, this is what I'm after.

Fill lighting is an awesome solution to the "shadow problem". It allows you to move your main light source off-axis from your camera (in order to give your subject that real-life 3 dimensional look) without creating a large amount of contrast in your final photograph. And what I have found over and over again -- when in it comes to adding my own light -- is this: THE way to make a so-so picture into a professional-looking photograph is to move that main light (the key light) off to one side or another in relation to your camera's viewpoint. You will hear me say that again and again.

Now, can you think of another way I could have solved my lighting problem in this situation? Yes you can I'm sure. Here's one: If you'll go re-read my post on March 20th -- "My Lovely Wife" (see here) -- you'll find that those same principles could have been applied here. By increasing the apparent size of my light source I could have lessened those dark shadow areas as well, reducing the overall contrast.

I hope you now can see the benefit of using fill lighting in your setup. It's just one of the many tools you should be able to utilize if the situation justifies it.

If nothing else, I hope that by looking at these two photographs you are ready to have a "Lazy Day" yourself. They are priceless...and rare. And that is why I had to capture it.

Thanks for reading!


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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Key vs. Fill Lighting

shot at 44mm, ISO 200, f/8, 1/125th of a sec, bare strobe left 3 ft away, 1/32 pwr
Summarizing today's post: Off-camera lighting in photography, adding fill light to your key light, & shooting in manual mode.

Now that we've looked at some of the benefits of off-camera lighting, lets go a little further. I want to introduce the idea of using multiple strobes. This is a very interesting way to of my favorites. We'll start simple, then expound a bit in later posts. 

So when is it a good idea to introduce another strobe into your setup?

It's a good idea to add a second strobe when you want little patches of controlled light in your frame. It allows you to light multiple sides of your subject without "blowing out" one side to light the other. It also allows you light on multiple planes, such as highlighting something in the background that you want to add emphasis to. But the most simple reason to add another light source is to lighten the shadows a bit on your subject. This is called "fill lighting".

I know what you are thinking. Geez...I've got to buy another flash now? Crap. But don't stress out, you can wait a while. Ask Santa for it. In the meanwhile, you can keep yourself busy (for a lifetime really) with that one strobe of yours, I promise. You can always use another light source as your second strobe until you get one. How? Use your imagination! Need some help? Stay tuned for my next post to give you one idea. 

So, in my setup today we have 2 light sources. The main one will be called the "key light", which is my main light...the source throwing the most light onto the scene. And for that, I am using my trusty SB-800 Nikon off-camera strobe. The other light source, the "fill light", will simply be my on-camera flash.

Look at the photograph above. This is a picture of a precious little house plant my mom gave us a couple of years ago that we have tried hard to nurture. (Hard to imagine I would call home from work and ask my wife... "have you watered the plant lately?"...but it happens.) Anyway, back on track. 

This photo was taken with only one light source first to prove a point. After setting the shutter speed fast enough to cut out any ambient light (at 1/125th of a second), I took the shot with my strobe to camera left, positioned about 3 feet away. This was a bare flash set at 1/32 power and nothing used to soften it (like an umbrella for example). So what you see is a hard light with hard shadow lines. Kind of nice and moody actually, but not what I'm after here. I want to bring out the leaves in the background a bit. 

shot at 44mm, ISO 200, f/8, 1/125th of a sec, adding on-camera fill, 1/32 pwr
Here is the second photograph using my on-camera flash as fill. It is set at manual 1/32 power as well. With every thing else exactly the same, you can now see the detail in the leaves much better. Nice.

Always remember that the way to a quality photo is to position your main light source (the key light) so it illuminates off-axis in relation to the camera, as we have discussed in previous posts. In other other words, don't ever make your on-camera flash your key light. You can use it as a fill light if necessary, but that's it. What's the result if you do use it as your key light? S-N-A-P-S-H-O-T. Snapshots have their place (as I have stated before), but I want you to avoid taking them when ever possible, and time allows. 

By definition, your fill light will be less powerful than your key light. What you are after is for the fill light to soften the shadows a bit, not blow-out and overexpose the areas that the key light is already illuminating. If you are paying attention, you will notice that both my key and fill lights were set at the same power (1/32), so what's up with that? Simple explanation. My fill light is on-camera, and my camera was set back further (approx 5 feet away) than my key light. Remember, your light source increases with intensity exponentially as you place it closer to your subject.

Hope all this makes sense. Play a little. I will submit another example using on-camera fill in my next post to help.

Thanks for reading!


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