Mentoring session: Speedlight Techniques [Portrait]

Saturday marked the second mentoring session for my group at the Sackville Photo Club, where I was helping some of the members learn a bit about external flash.  We began an example portrait session by showcasing the ambient light in the room, which ultimately wasn't that bad!

I'm particularly pleased by the lighting that's coming in from a bank of windows on the wall, giving a nice fill and some catchlights to boot.  My settings were being pushed a little more than I really like though, as it's easy to miss focus at f/2.8 and having a high ISO means more noise.

By lowering the ISO a bit, and increasing the aperture, we were able to make use of bounced on-camera flash to provide the following result:

A very pleasing photo, especially considering that it was made by bouncing on-camera flash off a piece of foam board.  The catchlights in the eyes are very nice as well, and the light direction has changed.  Instead of the bulk of the light coming from the left, it's now coming from the right, slightly above Cheryl.  By letting the ambient light in, the image does appear to be slightly flat, and honestly, while it's nice, it's a bit boring.  

By pushing the settings on the camera further, we were able to kill the ambient light a lot better.  I pushed the ISO down to 100, shutter speed to 1/160 of a second and aperture to f/7.1.  For this photo, bouncing the flash wouldn't quite be enough, so we instead opted to use an umbrella and a reflector to build this setup.

Here's what we did: Flash on a stand, shoot through umbrella off camera right with the bottom of the umbrella approximately 3 feet from Cheryl and at eye level.  The flash is triggered by manual radio triggers, off camera.  This meant that my shutter was limited to 1/200s, but that's not a big deal as I intended to stay around 1/125 or 1/160.  A reflector is positioned just out of frame on Cheryl's right (camera left) to fill in anywhere the umbrella doesn't reach.  Finally, one flash is on the background to help provide a bit of fill and vignette.

For our final setup, we did a more unconventional profile type of portrait.  For this we kept the light on the background low, moved a softbox around so that it was basically between Cheryl and the backdrop, off camera right. We switched to a softbox because the black siding prevented light from bouncing off our backdrop, giving us more control. Again, a reflector was needed to provide a bit of fill on the left side of the frame, outlining the back of Cheryl's hair.

While these setups serve as a good starting point, there is a lot of fine tuning required to make the light behave.  The real secret is to experiment, and not give up until you find something that matches your vision.  These things take time to master, and mistakes breed experience.  Get out there and try some lighting!