I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, photography it all about light. The word photography in Greek is actually translated to mean “drawing with light”, and the better your light the better the photograph. When it all comes down to it we have 2 main types of light sources; natural light, such as the sun, and artificial light, such as studio lights or flashes. So real question is how do you make the most of the light you have at your disposal?
Natural light is amazing! It looks good, soft, and well…natural. The only problem is sometimes natural light changes and with those changes you will get a totally different looking photograph. So here are some essential techniques to make to the most of the natural light you have.
- Shoot early/shoot late – This old saying in photography isn’t just for landscape photographers. When light in low on the horizon you get a much softer look as well as direct light on your subject. You can avoid harsh light and shadows created at mid-day light and enjoy the wonderful light around you.
- Shoot in the shade – Lets, be honest, sometimes you just can’t shoot in the best lit times of the day. As a photographer there are many times when you just have to work with what the client wants. Unfortunately, most wedding clients won’t change the time of their wedding so that you can have an easier time getting the photos; they expect you to do a great job either way. By placing your subject in the shade you can get soft and diffused light that still looks clean and natural. Additionally, when it is an overcast day you can get the same effect and get soft light all around. Just make sure you are metering off of your subject and not the whole scene as a bright background will throw off everything.
- Diffuse the light – Sometimes you have to figure out how to get softer light on your own. A diffuser can be anything from a giant light diffuser from a camera store to a white sheet held up against the sun. Place the diffuser between your subject and the sun to create a much softer look to the photo. * Note you will probably have to have an assistant hold up the diffuser, as it will be hard to do that and photograph at the same time.
- Use a reflector – Reflectors are amazing, they allow you to completely manipulate the sun and bounce the light you want back onto your subject. They are an amazing and inexpensive way to light your subject.
While natural light is good, sometimes you just need more. Almost every professional photographer (who is an actual professional photographer not just your neighbor who shoots the occasional portrait and claims to be a professional photographer) relies heavily on lights to completely transform their images. If photography is all about light then using flashes puts you in the driver’s seat, allowing for total control over how the light looks on your subject.
There are 2 approaches to flash photography, on and off camera. On camera flash is simply using either your pop-up flash that came with your camera or using an external flash on your camera’s hot shoe. The built in flash is going to be very limited for most people this is why they dislike flash photography. An external flash, however, is going to allow for a much higher quality of light as you can get a more powerful light that also can be directional, offering you the ability to bounce the light indoors or shoot with the flash not pointing directly at the subject. You can also equip your flashes with a number of diffusers and other accessories to change the look and feel of the photograph.
In addition to the sometimes-hard light of a flash, they can also be a little complicated and sometimes you just don’t want another thing that you have to deal with. Fortunately for you we have an answer to that as well! Most external flashes have at least 2 settings, TTL and Manual. TTL stands for “through the lens”, which is kind of a fancy way of saying that it is automatic. On this mode your flash is going to be attached to your camera and when your camera locks on your subject your flash then reads those settings, reads the situation for itself, and then fires what it believes to be an appropriate amount of light. For the most part it does a pretty descent job with about 85% accuracy. For the other 15% you can make adjustments, telling the flash to be brighter or darker in the flash exposure compensation option. So if you take a photo and on your LCD screen you can tell that you need more light from your flash just tell it to overexpose for the next shot.
For situations where you want a little more control you can also put your external flash in M or Manual Mode. In this mode you tell the flash how much light to shoot every time. It is measured in fractions with 1/1 being full power, ½ being half power, ¼ being quarter power, etc. In this mode you have total control and the beauty of digital is if the light is too bright or too dark you can adjust it and you’re good to go.
Now if an external flash is good, moving that external flash off of your camera is even better! For the best results in flash photography move your flash off of your camera and trigger it wirelessly. Doing this is going to allow for a much higher and more dramatic light. When you fire a flash at your subject from on your camera the light is hitting your subject completely the same, all of the light is just going straight on. By moving your flash, AKA your light source, to the side you are allowing for sidelight to come into the photo.
Now if you’re thinking that moving the light off camera is too complicated, think again, its just like shooting with the flash on your camera just triggering it a different way. There are several different ways to trigger the flash and all are pretty simple.
- TTL cord – this is just a cord (ranging from 2-50 feet) that allows you to fire the flash off camera. You attach one end to your camera hot shoe and the other to the flash hot shoe.
- Built in wireless – Some cameras and flashes are made to talk to each other wirelessly. Most of the mid-high end Canon and Nikon cameras will be able act as a transmitter with their pop-up flashes that send the message to fire to the same brand flashes wirelessly. Because they are all different I won’t go into the setup of each but if you want to email us we can show you how.
- Radio or TTL triggers – This is a great way to get your flash to trigger wirelessly. Attach one to your camera and another to the flash and allow them to talk to each other. Starting around $50 for a descent one, this allows for a great and professional way to fire your flashes off camera.
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