Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Assignment 4 - Lighting Technique

The goal for this assignment was to practice with different lighting techniques and using flash for both primary lighting and for fill. I found this assignment to be a bit more challenging than the others. Flash usage is not one of my strong points, so it was fun to give it a try. At the same time, I don't have an external flash, so I was stuck using the one built into my rebel. As a result, I ran into some difficulties along the way. There were a few places I found where I wanted to use fill flash, but the distance was so great that the little built in flash couldn't reach it with enough power to produce any significant fill, so those shots didn't work. In other places I was again limited by the power of the built in flash, as the room was too big for me to bounce the built in flash off the ceiling (using an index card to bounce it) but the direct flash was too strong. In the end, I didn't get a whole lot of useful examples to take in, but I at least ended up with enough shots to demonstrate three different degrees of flash.

Flash as Primary Light

This first image demonstrates using fill flash as the primary source of lighting. I found this little plant in the woods and thought it would make an interesting subject. At first I tried to shoot it with no flash to see what I could get. I was able to easily get enough lighting to expose it at a reasonable handheld shutter speed. However, what I ended up with was a very distracting photo. Even though the leaves in the background had blurred, they were still quite bright and stood out (drawing your attention away from the foreground). With a bit of flash, I was able to light the foreground properly while shortening the shutter speed enough to darken the background to keep if from being distracting. In fact, the foreground lighting ended up better, since it accentuated the divots in each of the berries (which were almost invisible in the shot without flash). I also used a piece of translucent plastic from a fruit juice jug to partially diffuse the flash (though it wasn't enough...there are still some pretty obvious flash highlights).

Blending Flash and Ambient Light

In this example, I had to back up and zoom in to keep the flash from being too strong (though I only discovered that through trial and error). Luckily by the time I found the right distance, this kid became quite distressed about removing his costume and presented me with quite a nice expression. If you look carefully, you can still tell flash was used (glare in eyes, on tip of nose, and on teeth and fingernails). These could be photoshopped out quite easily (though that wasn't my goal for the assignment, so I left them in). However, looking at the rest of the outfit, it is lit quite naturally. You can see a subtle shadow around his neck from the green neck piece, but the flash fills it in and makes it more subtle.

Sidelighting with Subtle Fill Flash

I'm not sure what this little girl was thinking, but she sat down in this wonderful lighting and then gave this very dramatic look. I'd swear she was posing for the camera, but that would mean she knew more about lighting and composition than me. I didn't want to get close enough to distract her, so I very quickly swapped out my 18-55mm lens and put on a 70-300mm one. I did the first shot without flash, and while it exposed properly, the shadowed side of her face ended up too dark. I popped up my internal flash, and from about 20 feet away it provided JUST enough flash to fill in the other side of her face ever so slightly. About the only evidence of flash might be the glare on the tip of her nose (though that may be from the sidelight...I'm not sure).

While I didn't uncover the most opportunities to use flash, I ended up with a broad enough sample to cover the different techniques. I've also never been a big fan of using flash, since every time I did I was less than satisfied with the results. However, the results I did get were enough to show me that I can take pictures with flash and still make them look good. Now I just need to get an external flash (to give me more distance and control) and to get out there and practice using it more (so that I can predict when, where, and how the flash will look best without using the LCD for trial and error).


Zimm said...

Keep it coming! I ran across your blog and gallery and bookmarked it a while back...don't remember where exactly, probably on DPreview.

I'm a Michigander as well...where are you taking the classes? I've been thinking about taking a course or two to hopefully make some improvements...

Ron Frazier said...

Thanks. The class that I'm taking is at Schoolcraft Community College. The instructor is very nice, but unfortunately (well, not for him) his business is picking up and he won't have time to teach next semester (or maybe even ever again). I'm planning on taking the advanced version of this course, but since he won't be there and they haven't yet released the schedule for next semester, I'm not sure if they found someone else to teach it in his absense. They also have a pair of black & while film with darkroom courses taught by anohter instructor.