Oxford School of Photography

insights into photography

Another great tutorial from Ed Verosky at About Photography

Simple Direct Flash For Effect

Julie-1

There’s no doubt that light modifiers are extremely useful for controlling the look and behavior of flash. Manufacturers are constantly coming up with new ways to snoot, spot, diffuse, bounce, color, and ring-light a basic flash unit. It’s gotten to the point where you rarely see anyone use a speedlite (or speedlight) these days without some extra attachment. But it doesn’t mean your flash is useless without a mini-softbox or piece of plastic on the end of it. Many people choose to use their flash units with no modifier, aimed straight at the subject.

Classic-portrait-1

I like to use the direct approach with my flash units for a certain look people have often referred to as “dirty.” I think of it as kind of a raw or dangerous look. Not that direct flash has to look that way, it’s just the look I like to get from it.

Last week, I did a quick set with actress Julia O’Neill. The plan was to explore darker characters, so I dispensed with my usual shoot-thru umbrellas and got these shots.

The idea for the first shot was simply to have Julia get on the floor and play the part of someone who’s had too much going on that night (use your imagination). I used a Canon 580EX II positioned on a light stand to my right, at a lower power setting, and aimed in her general direction. I used a step-ladder to get some vertical distance.

Classic-portrait-2

As you can see, there are hot spots and uneven lighting which adds to the amateur or “low-budget” effect of the shot. I added some vignetting in post to add to the darkened back-room feel. A spotlight or vignette look might also have been accomplished with a grid or snoot attachment, flags, or a combination of the two, but it’s just so easy to change and control this look in post I prefer to do it that way.

I’ve included a couple of images showing how I normally setup my flash on a stand. The image on the right illustrates the shoot-thru umbrella configuration, however I didn’t use the umbrella for the shots in this article.

Shot above: 17-40mm @ 33mm, ISO 100, f/4.0, 1/250 sec.

Julie-2

In the next shot I used two lights; one positioned hard right and one just above Julia’s head. Both were unmodified Speedlites. Again, the idea was to portray a darker character in an emotionally-charged situation. In the photo below, she moved half her face into the shadow area for an intense, partially hidden look.

B/W Shots: 50mm, ISO 200, f/4.0, 1/250 sec.

Julie-3

Just remember that all photography doesn’t have to be made with soft, pretty, even lighting. Lighting is a tool you can use to tell a story, not just something you need to “get right” according to what you’ve seen other people do. Check out the work of Terry Richardson and Ellen von Unwerth for great examples of harder lighting (NSFW). Experiment with your DSLR or even a point and shoot to see how you can tell a story with direct flash on, or off, the camera.

 

You can see more from Ed on his site, here is the link

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