In my view, a good portrait should express persona. I’ve come to accept that light and, as importantly, shadow are the keys to expressing persona. (OK…light, shadow, and the subtleties of expression and gesture. OK, well…light, shadow, subtleties of expression and gesture, and environment.) I did four shoots yesterday for the Speedliter’s Handbook. The shot above is my favorite of the day. It’s 100% Speedlite (actually two Speedlites and a bit of 1/2-cut CTO).

^Here’s the actual scene: a man in an armchair reading by the light of a warm, fluorescent light bulb. The contrast is created by the camera’s inability to record the same dynamic range that we can see. I could easily see into the shadows to the left. The camera could not.

^Here’s my first pass at recreating that light. I removed the bulb from the lamp and parked a 580EXII in there. I connected it to my 5DM2 via the extra-long E-TTL cord that has become essential to my work. There’s a Sto-Fen dome diffuser on the Speedlite with a 1/2-cut CTO gel stuffed under the Sto-Fen. The gel is there to add a bit of warmth–but not as much as the warm fluorescent bulb did. Yes, that is the cord that you see running up the lamppost. And, if you look closely, you can see the foot of the Speedlite. These are un-retouched photos here.

^It’s very important to know how the camera is recording the ambient light. To check, I just pull the cord out of the hotshoe so that I can fire off a frame without the Speedlite. This was a late-afternoon shoot in July, so there was lots of sunlight outside. The combo of shutter and aperture assured that it was not a significant factor in the shoot.

^Many photographers are fond of bounce flash. It sure does create nice, soft light. It also lights everything–which changes the shot completely. The bounce was a second 580EX, also gelled with 1/2-cut CTO, that I slaved off the flash in the lamp stand. I just held it over my head and fired it into the ceiling. You may like this image just fine. It’s not my style as I think it lacks persona.

^The challenge I had with the actual lighting and the challenge that I had with my first pass was that there was too much contrast. You have to light to fit the way the camera sees. So I set the slaved Speedlite on the arm of the adjacent couch and fired it into the wood paneling for a bit of fill. I then played with the ratio between the master and the slave until I was happy with the balance. The cool thing about extra-long E-TTL cord is that I did all this from the LCD of my camera. The shot above is close in terms of light, but lacks the persona of my hero shot.

^Here’s the hero shot compared to the original, household lighting. Given that fluorescent is difficult to balance in the camera or with gels, it was far easier for me to light the shot with two Speedlites rather than try to use the household fluorescent with one Speedlite for fill. It’s also much more fun.

BTW, if you click on any of these pix, you jump through to a larger version. Enjoy!

Have A Question About Speedliting?

Email your question, name, and where you live to qqa -at- speedliting -dot- com. I’ll be posting Quick Questions & Answers very so often. See the first one here.


5 Responses to Moving The Light

  1. Chris S. says:

    Syl! The only problem I see here is the flash bracket sticking out 🙂 Thanks for sharing and I can't wait for the handbook!

    • Syl Arena says:

      That's not a bracket…it's the foot of the Speedlite — right next to the yellow velcro strap… that's just above the E-TTL cord running up the post. As I said in the post, these are un-retouched. Many more shoots to come!

  2. P Nut says:

    Hi Syl, nice shot here. I've been a big fan of your work from the start. 🙂

    I'm not sure if I'm just being picky but there seems to be an uneven hot spot on the lamp which is a bit distracting to me. perhaps you could have placed the speedlite horizontally and pointed the stofen upwards so that the bright spot would also be at the same place as a bulb would be? a gaffer tape would've secured the speedlite or so and that would've also solved the problem of the foot of the speedlite peeking through..

  3. Tiago Lima says:

    Syl, great article. It’s incredible the changes in the mood of each photo…

    Stil wainting for your book to come out with me order “pending” on amazon 🙂

  4. Daithí says:

    Excellent stuff, really well illustrated… I'm looking forward to future articles and the book.

    I must get me one of those extra long TTL cables!

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