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Photography Tutorial – Off Camera Flash

Photography Tutorial – Off Camera Flash

Finished shot edited in a retro style Off Camera Flash Tutorial

Finished shot edited in a retro style Off Camera Flash Tutorial

Hi folks, thought I would post a Photography tutorial about using off camera flash, I have got a wedding photography post to do but have been meaning to do this for a while so thought I would get to it. My models for this tutorial were the two Danbos (Big Dan and Little Dan), they are a photogenic couple, not overly talkative but Consummate professionals, they get the job done. This is the finished shot but I’ll post some setup shots and how I got to the finished article, after the jump.

OK, I don’t do many indepth tutorials so if this isn’t overly clear just add some comments and I’ll try and answer some questions. The gear I used for this was a Canon 5DII with a STE2 for controlling the flashes. You can use radio poppers or pocket wizards but for this tutorial I am doing everything in TTL which pretty much means the camera decides the flash levels. You can add exposure compensation to the flashes if they are too bright/dark. If you use Pocket Wizards you have to set flash powers manually, which is an important skill to have but that’s another tutorial! Other gear I used were 2 580EXII speedlights (430’s would also work as they have slaves for the STE2) I also had a lumiquest big bounce on one light and a home made grid on the other. I also used some gels which are just coloured plastic that change the colour of the light.
First thing I did was set my camera to M (manual) set the shutter to 1/200, aperture to f/2, ISO100 using a 50mm. The aperture was wide (f/2) as I wanted a thin depth of field. With a relatively fast shutter and low ISO I knew I would have very little ambient light coming through, so any light had to be provided by the flashes.

1. Test shot to make sure I have no (or little) ambiant light Off Camera Flash Tutorial

1. Test shot to make sure I have no (or little) ambient light Off Camera Flash Tutorial

Next I placed my models and lit them from a softbox (lumiquest big bounce) pretty much overhead, this would provide a nice soft light, this main light stayed here all shoot.

2. First Flash put in place, overhead softbox for diffused light Off Camera Flash Tutorial

2. First Flash put in place, overhead softbox for diffused light Off Camera Flash Tutorial

I wasn’t overly happy with the angle and wanted to get a bit lower, no problem as they were on my desk but this would usually mean lying on the floor with the camera at ground level, if you had to do this outside the chances are it would be raining!

3. Change of angle to get a lower shooting position Off Camera Flash Tutorial

3. Change of angle to get a lower shooting position Off Camera Flash Tutorial

I don’t know where that burst of pessimism came from, how can you be negative when dealing with Danbo’s? Anyway after I was happy with the general setup I had to do something about that cluttered backdrop. Although the thin depth of field had blurred it out it was still noticeable and would only take a few seconds to move aside, it was only pens and paper. If this was a wedding the chances are it would have been a few people completely unconnected with the wedding just milling around in the background, for some reason they believe their presence somehow enhances the photograph, I beg to differ. Anyway back to the tutorial.

4. Scrap the cluttered background Off Camera Flash Tutorial

4. Scrap the cluttered background Off Camera Flash Tutorial

So with the background cleared I could have probably left it at that but I decided to bring in a 2nd light to act as some rim lighting on Big Dan. I must stress if you can get away with using one light that is perfectly fine, I just couldn’t get away with it this time.

5. Brought in a 2nd flash for some hard backlighting, which  for some reason is in shot?!? Off Camera Flash Tutorial

5. Brought in a 2nd flash for some hard backlighting, which for some reason is in shot?!? Off Camera Flash Tutorial

Sometimes having the light in the frame works, a trick I have used during a few first dances but as the light is relatively large compared to the models, it being in the shot is just slack.

6. Backlight moved but I didn't like the shadows big dan cast on little dan Off Camera Flash Tutorial

6. Backlight moved but I didn't like the shadows big dan cast on little dan Off Camera Flash Tutorial

After moving the 2nd light I noticed it made big dan cast a sharp shadow all over little dan’s face, not pretty. So I decided to turn the 2nd light on the back wall to create a spot light effect. I zoomed the flash to 105mm and added a homemade grid which really focuses the light, as seen below.

7. Decided to fix an grid on 2nd light and aimed it at the back wall Off Camera Flash Tutorial

7. Decided to fix an grid on 2nd light and aimed it at the back wall Off Camera Flash Tutorial

I then changed my mind once again (or used my creative license) and decided I wanted to cast a shadow of them both on the wall so I moved the 2nd flash behind me and to the right.

8. Moved 2nd light to perhaps cast a dramatic shadow of the couple Off Camera Flash Tutorial

8. Moved 2nd light to perhaps cast a dramatic shadow of the couple Off Camera Flash Tutorial

I recomposed the shot to put my subject to the side and make sure both shadows were included in the shot, otherwise it just looks like I used a dirty great on camera flash resulting in a dirty great slightly off centre shadow, which made me gip.

9. Repositioned the shot to make sure the shadow was captured Off Camera Flash Tutorial

9. Repositioned the shot to make sure the shadow was captured Off Camera Flash Tutorial

As it seemed quite likely by this point that I was going to make this into a tutorial for my blog I thought I would gel the 2nd flash, I use a pale blue gel, my inspiration being that Man City were playing as I was taking these, I’m not overly interested in it but as we won 3-0 I thought I’d incorporate it into my photography (honest).

10. Added a pale blue gel to 2nd light to get some colour into the scene Off Camera Flash Tutorial

10. Added a pale blue gel to 2nd light to get some colour into the scene Off Camera Flash Tutorial

That Blue was a little too pale for my taste so I dialed down the exposure compensation on flash 2 to -1 this would dive a darker more saturated blue.

11. Brought down exposure compensation on 2nd light by 1 stop as it was too bright Off Camera Flash Tutorial

11. Brought down exposure compensation on 2nd light by 1 stop as it was too bright Off Camera Flash Tutorial

For some reason the softbox on the first light was creeping in to frame so I raised it up using the box set of Alfred Wainwrights Lakeland Fells, sure I have light stands but this was right there.

12. Moved first light as it was getting in the shot Off Camera Flash Tutorial

12. Moved first light as it was getting in the shot Off Camera Flash Tutorial

There was still a bit of unwanted shadow being cast but I wasn’t really liking the shadow cast by the couple idea, it seemed to just make a big diagonal line from bottom left to top right which wasn’t the best in terms of composition (I could have just swapped the Danbo’s round making some interesting triangles but I wanted to revisit the spotlight on the wall idea.

13. Scrapped the shadow idea but kept the gel, went back to lighting the back wall for a spotlight effect Off Camera Flash Tutorial

13. Scrapped the shadow idea but kept the gel, went back to lighting the back wall for a spotlight effect Off Camera Flash Tutorial

I thought I was on the right path with my original idea it’s always good to explore creative avenues if time permits, it’s not as if the Danbo’s had to get to there next engagement, they are plastic dolls that just live on the shelf. Anyway I was quite happy with this now but the slightest detail of little Dan not looking straight at big Dan was very important, I got the impression he was just doing a half baked impression of Rain Man.

14. Repositioned little Dan's head so it was actually looking at big Dan Off Camera Flash Tutorial

14. Repositioned little Dan's head so it was actually looking at big Dan Off Camera Flash Tutorial

And that’s pretty much it, I imported it into lightroom where I toned it to give it a vintage retro style because I am quite into that at the moment. The whole process only took about 5 minutes but there are quite a few steps to get a pretty simple image but the more you as “what if I do this or that?” the better you get. I’ve posted the scene as it was in the end, I have no idea why I didn’t use the studio, sometimes it’s good to just have a mess about with the speed lights. I hope this tutorial has been informative and hopefully will give you a bit of inspiration to get out and take some shots. It’s worth noting that for those who don’t have a wireless transmitter, multiple flashes or a speedlight softbox, you could achieve a similar shot just with one flash and an off camera cord, I think canons one is about £40 and retains the auto TTL functions if you don’t want to get into manual flash. You could also get away with using a white piece of A4 paper or a big empty milk carton instead of the lumiquest big bounce.
If you have any questions or comments please don’t hesitate to post them.

15. The setup Off Camera Flash Tutorial

15. The setup Off Camera Flash Tutorial

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