Sep
02
For Photographers

Flash series pt 13: Details & Indoor Portraits


Today is the final post in my series on using flash. That's right! The series you NEVER thought would come to an end is finally wrapping up. If you're just tuning in, you may want to start from the beginning and get caught up on the the series to this point. Here are the first twelve parts:

Part 1: The Basics
Part 2: Flash Compensation
Part 3: Dragging your Shutter
Part 4: Using Existing Light Sources
Part 5: Eliminating Grain
Part 6: Off-camera Flash Exposure
Part 7: Off-camera Flash Set-up
Part 8: Off-camera Flash Angles
Part 9: Low-light Focus Trick
Part 10: Shooting Over Head
Part 11: Outdoor Receptions
Part 12: Getting Creative

Up to this point, I've been focusing on using flash during receptions. That's because in 99% of my weddings I only use flash at receptions. I don't use fill-flash outdoors for portraits. Ever. It's ok if you do, I just don't like how the fill tends to flatten the light in the image. Instead I just make sure to pick my portrait locations carefully based on the best use of natural light available.

But every once in awhile I do break out the OCF for details or indoor portraits. In all of the instances I am going to be giving throughout this post, I only use one off-camera flash; no on-camera flash at all, which is a departure from most of what I've written up to this point in the series.

There are two set-ups I use, depending on the situation. For both, I have one pocketwizard in my camera's hot-shoe. Set-up 1 below is only used for indoor family portraits. Set-up 2 is used for details and indoor portraits of couples. We're going to start by talking about the instances in which I use set-up 2.

Detail Shots

I don't always use OCF for detail shots. I move portable details like the bouquet and shoes to good light before shooting them. And many non-portable details like the cake and table-settings are often well-lit, so I don't feel the need to add light. But sometimes a little OCF can do wonders when shooting details if the available light just isn't cutting it. Both of the cake photos above were shot with set-up 2 and I love how the OCF adds to the three-dimensionality of them. For all photos taken with set-up 2, I have my non-shooting assistant hold a Canon Speedlite 580 EX with my Gary Fong Lightsphere attached to the top of it with the lid on and one pocketwizard attached to the flash. I don't use a lightstand for these because they are quick and require easy mobility of the light. I also like being able to ask my assistant to stand at different angles in relation to the details in order to get different effects. You can tell from the shadows cast in both of the cake photos above that I had my assistant about 45 degrees to the right of me, which was perfect for creating a nice shade gradient over the face of the cake.

Even though we are only using one flash in these instances, all of the principles of exposure explained in part 6 of the series still apply. The nice thing is, the variable of flash to subject distance is easier to tweak in set-up 2. If you need a little more light, have your assistant move closer to the subject; if a little less, have her step back. Settings for the cake photos are -- on R: ISO 100, f2.5, 1/30sec. OCF power approx. 1/64; on L: ISO 640, f1.4, 1/80sec. OCF power approx. 1/128.


Indoor Portraits of the Bride & Groom

Whenever possible I like to do wedding day portraits outside in natural light. But in the case of these next three photos, the wedding receptions were at the Phoenix Art Museum and it just made sense to take the opportunity to photograph the couples with some of the art.

Each of these images was taken with the help of my assistant and set-up 2 pictured above. For this first one, the museum lighting was illuminating the art installment behind the couple but I needed to add light to them in order to match that of the background. My settings were ISO 1000, f1.6, 1/125 sec., OCF power approx. 1/64. My assistant was standing just to my right.


For this next image, my assistant was around the corner standing behind the bride. You can see the couple's shadow cast on the wall. My settings were ISO 640, f4.5, 1/125 sec, OCF power approx. 1/64.


Can you guess where my assistant was in this next image? Look for the light....that's right -- she was squatting down behind the bride! Just a fun experiment that ended up working out well :).


Indoor Family Portraits

Every wedding photographer, at some point, will have to take family portraits at the front of a church. I do what I can to avoid it because I don't think it's generally a great location for portraits, but I inevitably need to do so three or four times a year. OCF GREATLY helps family portraits taken at the altar. It can't transform the background to make it less distracting, but it can add some much-needed light to your subjects.

For indoor family portraits I use set-up 1 pictured above. A 60" convertible umbrella is attached to the light stand via an umbrella bracket. A cold shoe is attached to the top of the umbrella bracket upon which my Canon Speedlite 580 EX is attached. The flash is pointed at a 90 degree angle into the center of the umbrella. Plugged into the flash is a pocketwizard and a Lumedyne HV Tinycycler Battery Pack which helps the flash recycle faster. The light stand is set at arms length to the right of me and is raised to a height that is about 2 feet taller than the tallest person. The umbrella is angled down so that everyone in the portrait can see into the center of it.

Here is the effect. My settings for this image were ISO 320, f4.5, 1/40 sec. OCF power approx. 1/128.


Here's an example of the same set-up with a larger family photo. I love how each face is well-lit. My settings for this image were ISO 500, f5.6, 1/100 sec., OCF power approx. 1/64 sec.


That's it! That's everything I know about flash as it relates to wedding photography, packaged into 13 hopefully easy-to-understand parts.

Oh! One final thing that I've had a few photographers email me about. Factory settings for Canon speedlites (I'm not sure about other brands) will cause your flash to automatically turn off after 10 or 15 minutes of non-use. This can be INCREDIBLY annoying if you have it on a light stand at a reception and have to walk over and turn it on and off again throughout the night. There is a custom function that you need to set on your flash unit in order to prevent this from happening. Each model is different, so check your manual to find out what the setting is. If you look up the setting for your flash unit, post it in the comments below for other users.

Thanks for hanging with me through this series! Hope you found it helpful! To find more info/reviews on my gear and other resources I offer photographers, click here!

Edited to add: I have recently changed my set-up a bit -- replacing my 580EXs & pocketwizards with 600EX-RTs. Click here to read a review I wrote about them and learn how I set them up to work for me at receptions!


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