26 Dec 2012

Playing with the rim light

During this year's portrait session I was using a rim light for the first time. I have used a self-made rectangular softbox equipped with the flashlight as a light source. My idea was to create a contour line along one side of the face and the shoulders of the model.
To make the finetuning easier other light sources were switched off. So I could see the result of this particular light only.
It turned out that proper placement of the softbox relative to a model was the most challenging task. First attempt was to just put a light source right to the model (picture left):

The effect is not fully as I wanted. Obviously, the right part of the model's body is lit, but the contour line along her body is actually not visible. The next attempt was to move the light source a little behind the model, projecting the light slightly from her back:
This is much more satisfactory. The line along model's right arm and head is more visible. Sure I lost some light on her face, but it would be compensated by the other light sources.
The final position of the rim light source became eventually like that:

9 Dec 2012

Extend multiple flash setup applications - cheap and efficient

Sometimes (well, probably more often than I would like to) I experience the situation when the system that I thought and use during my photography assignments doesn't work as I expected. This happened during my last portrait shooting.

The problem I had was manifestated with the close-up portraits:
Since I was using the iTTL system of Nikon, it was required that all three light sources needed to be in the line of sight of the master flash, placed on the camera. The problem was with the rim light source (C). Since it was a strip softbox (30x100 cm) and it was quite deep (30 cm), the flash unit placed at the rear side of the softbox was not always reachable by the master flash. There are several options to solve it (at least that I came with in the first instance):
  1. Put the omnibouncer on the master unit to create the broader light bundle used for controlling other flashes
  2. Use a radio frequency wireless trigger
  3. Don't come so close to the subject (for example by using a lens with a longer focal length)

The first option helped a bit, but didn't solve the problem completely. To be honest, it was required anyway, to control the base light (A) in a reliable way.
The second option is nice, but I don't have a wireless trigger and my budget for photography is for this year really, really up.
Third option is the probably something I'd love to try, if I had a proper lens. I was shooting with the 24-70mm lens. If I had a lens with a longer focal lenght (e.g. 70-200) that would solve my problem. And I think it would also create a lot of new opportunities for the composition of a close up portrait, but alas - something for the future.

There is actually a fourth option, coming from the observation that iTTL is a one-way control system, where the master unit sends the control signals in the form of short light pulses. So the basic light principles, like the reflection of light apply for these signals. The solution was born. I simply put a highly reflective surface ensuring the light from the control unit reaches the remote flash. Something like on the picture below:

Now the best part. The "high reflective surface" was a silver foam that is used to protect the windscreen of a car from freezing. To buy in the Netherlands for 2 or 3 Euro.
The result: 100% efficiency in the controlling of the rim light.

2 Dec 2012

School portrets season is over - learnings and looking forward

The shooting of portraits for the Polish school in The Hague for 2012 is finished. Today I sent last photos for printing. As each year I try to put a new challenge on the area of photography and to experiment with something new. After all, it should be fun for everyone, including a volunteer photographer.

So this year I was using 3 light sources for the first time, building a classical setup: base light in front of the subject, left or right, background lighting to lit the background and the rim light coming from the  side, slightly behind the subject:

The light sources I have used for the setup were as follows:
- Base light (A) Lastolite's EzyBox Hotshoe 76x76cm powered with SB-900 in iTTL mode
- Background light (B): SB-600 placed on a boom arm behind a Lastolite's Tri grip diffuser. SB-600 set in manual mode on 1/4 of maximum power.
- Rim light (C): self-made 30x100 cm softbox with SB-900 set in iTTL mode.

The setup was controlled by the SB-910 flash placed on the camera.

The light setup was partially dictated by the background:
It felt more naturally to put the background light to the right letting the light travel along the lines formed by the orange clouds. So is the main light was placed also left to the photographed subject.

Before shooting I needed to decide whether to use a laptop and shoot in tethered mode or not. Finally I decided not to do so, mainly due to the number of children and the expected crowd and hectic during the session.

So what were the challenges this year? Here the list of most important ones:
1. Place the rim light efficiently to create the desired result,
2. Determine the limits of iTTL system and learn how to use it in such situations,
3. Learn how to deal with iTTL when there is no line of sight between the master flash and the remote units (and not ruin your budget),
4. Streamline the workflow during the session and during the post-processing efficiently so it doesn't take ages to come to the photos.
5. Fine tune the light setup to let children shine on a portrait (some information about it in my previous post)
6. Place the larger groups in front of the background of a limited size.

In coming posts I will take each challenge one by one and describe what I did to overcome it.