Off Camera Flash

Venetian Nights

One of the big quests for a photographer is to use flash in a way that creates interesting images and doesn’t have that normal dull on camera look about it.

This image, one of a series done for an ongoing project called “Venetian Nights”, was done with two Canon 580ExII flash units. The trick involved in getting some atmosphere into the shot, apart from the location, model and mask, was to use the on-camera flash as a fill to get some light into the eyes and lift the shadows and to use an off-camera flash as the key light rated  a couple of stops higher than the on-camera unit.

This technique and many related to it are all the rage at the current time and one of the advances that has made this approach easy and reliable is the birth of devices like the radio slaves produced by Pocket Wizard, notably the Mini TT1 and Flex TT5. The shot above used a TT1 on the camera, through which the on-camera flash was fired, and a Flex TT5 attached to the off-camera flash.

Whilst the USA version of the Pocket Wizard has suffered from radio interference problems when used with the Canon 580EXII units, the European version, which uses a different frequency to communicate with the flash units, seems to have avoided these problems.  One of the really great advances of this system is that it allows full TTL flash performance to be maintained as well as allowing very high speed sync rates which suddenly makes dramatic outdoor shots in full daylight possible  provided you remember you are dealing with a small flash unit and keep it relatively close to your subject. We will look at a bridal beach shoot in the next post which used exactly this approach.

The short story here is to get the flash off the camera to allow greater creativity in flash photography. This can be done in the ‘old way’ by using cables but the recent technological additions of Pocket Wizard radio slaves make a fantastic addition to the arsenal of photographers looking for an edge.

Basic Technique – Contra Jour

Scattered early morning sunlight through incense smoke

Here is an image shot for a magazine story on Singapore some years ago. The film used was 35mm Fuji 1600 pushed two stops.

In the early morning in Chinatown, an area that has undergone massive refurbishment in recent years, local people wander in to one of the oldest temples in Singapore to pay their respects and seek good fortune. The temple was filled with the smoke from the large number of incense sticks that had been lit by devotees but the true atmosphere did not become apparent until the first rays of sunlight started to filter in over the roof tops and light the internal courtyard of the temple.

Shooting with the sun behind me, as is often the advice given to beginning photographers, revealed none of the atmosphere I could see in that small courtyard. A simple shift in location, which meant deliberately breaking the “sun over the shoulder” rule changed this dramatically. With the sun now positioned in the upper right hand corner of the shot the light was filtered by the smoke which scattered the light in all directions giving a closer approximation to the feeling that was apparent at the time.

Rules are made to be broken but there is the need to be careful in the breaking. Putting the sun more directly in the picture would have led to an unacceptable level of flare as well as multiple internal reflections in the lens which would have become visible in the image as a series of multicolored circles.