In photography, lighting is everything. After all, the Greek meaning of photography is “drawing with light”. That said, we have many tools to take advantage of, and one of them is the Speedlite, otherwise known as a hotshoe flash for digital SLR cameras and some point-and-shoot cameras too.
But many photographers are intimidated by flash.
I know it’s easier for some photographers to transition into the use of available or natural light, and that is great knowledge to have. But clients also love the results of detailed scenery or iconic landmarks in their photos, especially in wedding photography. In some cases that can be hard to accomplish with just natural light since you have to balance the exposure well enough to capture the detail in your couple and the background at the same time.
Depending on lighting conditions for example, when you set exposure for your couple, the background may turn out too dark. Or when you expose for the background, the couple may turn out too bright. No matter what kind of camera you are using, AUTO mode or manual mode, entry-level or professional SLR, it’ll never be able to process light the way your brain does. Although today’s cameras do quite a good job trying!
So how do you deliver professional results that your client expects?
By understanding on and off-camera flash and what is known as fill light. Here is a simple technique to make it happen, known as through-the-lens metering, or TTL (ETTL for Canon cameras). This means measuring light through the lens the photographer is using. This information can then be used to select proper exposure and control the amount of light emitted by a flash connected to the camera. Your camera can do all of this for you, they are that good. All you need to do is attach a Speedlite and you are set for some lighting and photography!
When shooting in sunny conditions the camera flash has the job of filling in some harsh shadows and keeping your bride and groom well lit.
Depending on the look you want, firing the flash off-camera via sync cord can result in more dimensional lighting (e.g., a mix of highlights and shadows), while on-camera flash results in more direct lighting. Both are simple and effective ways for adding fill light to your subjects, making them look fantastic.
Lighting also gives you the chance to maintain the detail in the scenery while using fill flash, or fill light on your subjects. As a destination wedding photographer, many couples that hire me want to include the scenery or iconic backdrop as a way to remember where they celebrated their big day. After months of planning the wedding, this detail is very important to them.
The couple pictured in the above (Image 1) image really wanted photos of the Taj Mahal Hotel where the groom had first proposed. While there is more than one way to achieve a good exposure and create a great photo, I had very little time to set up any fancy lighting, a common scenario in wedding photography.
Wedding photographers typically need to be mobile with the best portable equipment they can afford. This is when the powerful and portable Speedlite shines, literally in a sense. I carry three, but for this example, one was enough. Simply attach the Speedlite to your camera’s hotshoe, switch it to TTL mode (or ETTL for Canon) and have good fill light all day. For the off-camera flash approach, use an Off-Camera Flash Sync Cord for Canon EOS Cameras, or if you’re a Nikon shooter, B H; Photo has a Nikon compatible Off-Camera Sync Shoe Cord.
The picture of the couple by the pool (Image 2) was shot on a very bright summer day afternoon. Without using any flash lighting the image would have had very hard highlights and shadows, which is generally not a nice look for images intended for a soft look. The solution was to underexpose the image for correctly metering the background sky and use an off-camera flash to expose the couple.
Solution: fire your off-camera flash!
With the small window of time to photograph this couple on their Sangeet night (Image 3), I chose the ease of mobility and speed using my Speedlite and TTL lighting. In addition, I attached a small Sto-Fen Omni-Bounce diffuser to the Canon 580EX Flash to soften the light just a bit more to ensure a flattering look on the bride and groom. I handheld the flash outward with my non-shooting (left) hand while I exposed for the background. This resulted in images that pop with color, a clear background, and a well-lit bride and groom. Mission accomplished.
Today’s photographic technology has come a long way, especially with the rise of powerful, affordable consumer digital SLRs entering the market. But remember, all the high-end tech won’t replace the fundamentals of understanding exposure, composition, and lighting. I hope this brief flash photography tutorial will help expand your photographic creativity.
Happy shooting, or should I say, happy lighting!