It’s not how many Speedlites you have, it’s where you put the one you have that matters. One Speedlite in the right place is far better than several in poor locations.
The Dutch painter Rembrandt (1606-1669) was celebrated for the dramatic merger of beautiful skin tones into deep shadow. His influence continues today as many photographers strive to create Rembrandt-lighting. What they are really after is a high degree of chiaroscuro (“KEE-ar-oh-sku-row”) in their images.
The key to getting beautiful chiaroscuro is to move the subject as close as possible to a large light source (or vice versa). In Rembrants’ day this was achieved by positioning the sitter by a large window in an otherwise unlit room. The closer the light source is to the subject, the more dramatic the fall-off.
Making a One-Light Portrait
The portrait above was taken in a dim studio with a single Speedlite fired through a 24″ Lastolite Ezybox Hotshoe. The softbox is literally just out of frame a camera left. The softbox turned the relatively small size of the Speedlite into a larger, wrap-around light source.
To get the Speedlite off-camera, I connected it with a a extra-long E-TTL cord. BIG TIP: this cord is the most useful piece of off-camera gear in my bag. If you are just starting with off-camera flash, spend $60 on this cord before you buy anything else! It maintains full E-TTL communication with the Speedlite so I can control the flash exposure from my camera. I like a straight cord, rather than a long cord, because I can run the cord from my camera down to the floor, across to the stand, and up to the Speedlite instead of having it swing through the air. So, when it comes to really long off-camera cords, straight is the way to go – avoid coiled.
The studio’s white background turned to black because the softbox was aimed to keep any spill off the back wall. The combination of aperture and shutter assured that none of the ambient light contributed to the exposure.
As for why the shadows are so deep when the light comes in close, we can blame that on the Inverse Square Law. But, that’s another story for another day.
Environment: Inside professional studio
Time of Day: Not a factor
Ambient: Dim incandescent
Speedlite: one 580EX II
Modifier: Lastolite Ezybox Hotshoe 24″
Distance to Subject: about 15″, just out of frame
Height of Light: centered just above model’s eyes
Trigger: Speedlite connected to camera hotshoe via extra-long off-camera E-TTL cord.
Camera: Canon 5D Mark II
Lens: Canon 200mm f/2 L
Distance to Subject: 10′
Exposure: 1/125″, f/4, ISO 200
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