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A little off-camera flash goes a long way... PDF Print E-mail
Written by Vincent Diamante   
Monday, 19 October 2009 21:55

Yep... It's been a while.  I've been busy.  Teaching classes, writing music, and trying my best not to go crazy.  Mostly succeeding at it.  But that's not what this post is about.

This post is all about some pictures I've taken using off-camera wired and wireless flash.  Because man do I like flash.  Rhymes with smash.  And panache.

When I was a kid, my first autofocus SLR was a Minolta Maxxum 3xi.  This was a pretty mediocre camera for photographers.  Couldn't manually set the film speed.  No spot meter.  No shutter speed and aperture viewable in the viewfinder.

But it did have one of my favorite features ever: wireless camera flash.

So there I was, this snot-nosed elementary school kid wielding an SLR in the right hand and holding a flash in the left, taking "artsy" looking pictures (read: abstract with lots of dutch angles) of his classmates courtesy of some strong handheld sidelighting.

It's not all that much different nowadays.

 

Anonymous at Scientology in Los Angeles

By far my most well known picture is one I took last year of some of the participants in the Los Angeles Anonymous protest of Scientology.  Thanks to a Creative Commons license, the photo has been seen by way too many people on sites from CNN to Fox News.  It's a pretty good shot, and it was incredibly easy to do.  All I did was walk down the street, see those three guys standing together, asked the fourth to come join them, and then I take a picture of them the same way I took pictures back in 6th grade: camera in the right hand, flash in the left.

Back in the day, the Minolta film flash auto exposure system was arguably the best in the world.  The Sony digital flash system that succeeded it is perhaps not quite so awesome (more to do with the physical properties of digital sensors vs. film than inability on Sony's part), but it still did an amazing job at lighting up the extremely close foreground and maintaining the background.  The combo of bright sun backlighting the scene, a single sidelighting flash, and Sony's Dynamic Range Optimizer locally raising shadows in the scene maximized the final image impact of the subject, shot ultra wide at super close range to accentuate the subjects' eye-lines.

Lately, I've been noticing cosplay photographers talking about using large-aperture normal to telephoto lenses to get their subjects to really pop in the image.  Me, I also like having the subject of the image pop.  I just tend to think first of doing it with my portable lighting setup than with a wide aperture lens capable of delivering super smooth bokeh.  I've gone through three digital interchangeable lens camera systems in the last decade (Minolta/Sony, Pentax, and Olympus), and with all of them I've made extensive use of off-camera flash, both in automatic and manual settings.

Here are a couple of examples:

 

Alice @ Fanime 2008

This is one of my favorite night shots.  I had one of my other cosplayer friends hold a single wireless flash aimed at Alice directly to the right of her.  Yeah, the Pentax's auto focus system wasn't perfect, and you can tell this copy of the lens isn't the best, but the picture doesn't rely on that.  Instead, it's all about the super high contrast, well-lit subject, save a half-illuminated face, shot in pitch darkness.  I actually had two wireless flashes at my disposal at this time, but I can't remember if it was me being smart or dumb deciding not to fill the other side.  I'll go with smart.  :)

 

Anime Expo 2008

Here's another one from the same year, shot with the same system.  Now armed with a slightly better copy of the lens I used above, I shoot not just the subjects, but also the background (the unused Kentia Hall of the Los Angeles Convention Center).  This time I've got flashes out in front of the subjects, both left and right, and both on manual power settings.  I actually expose for the practical lighting (note the 1/5th sec exposure) and I just sorta "kiss" the subjects with very low power flash, maintaining the strong shadows and the industrial mood created by the ceiling lights while establishing the proper look and feel of the costumes.

 

Hikaru Plays in the Pool

And now back to using daylight flash.  Here's one that was done with a single flash on an umbrella behind my right shoulder, a Canon Speedlight 430 EX triggered through an Elinchrom system.  Full manual on the camera, full power flash.  People talk about using large apertures to separate the subject from the background.  Here, I think the flash did a pretty good job at that while I shot at f/6.3 to ensure more than enough DOF and optimum lens performance.

 

Chun-Li and Sakura

Now to end this post with one from Anime Con Carne.  Compared to this crazy action shot that dominated the shoot, this one took literally seconds to conceptualize and execute.  Here we've got Chun-Li ostensibly downed momentarily by a smug Sakura.  Both are well front-lit by the sun, but off picture left, one of my friends is aiming a flash right at Sakura, helping her to pop out of the fairly bright background and establish herself as a subject equal to Chun-Li, despite occupying significantly less space.  (Yes, I know I blew out the highlights, but that's just what I do...)

So there's my post on how I've used flash over the years for costumed subjects.  Of course I've used off-camera flash for plenty of news and documentation purposes.  It's not like good lighting is solely for the realm of fashion photography...

 

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