There are two keys to creating golden hour light with a Speedlite or strobe—gel your flash to create golden light and position it to create long, angled shadows. Both are easy to do with off-camera flash.
The first step—creating golden light—actually begins by underexposing the ambient light in the scene. As you can see below in the middle panel of Fig. 3, I pulled three stops of ambient light out by increasing my shutter speed two stops and closing the aperture down one stop. Pulling the ambient down to near black is critical. Essentially you are establishing the tone of the shadows that will fall between the slashes of golden light created by your flash.
My go-to gel for creating golden hour light is the CTO (Color Temperature Orange). CTO comes in several densities–called “cuts.” For this shoot, I gelled with a full-cut of CTO. When I’m trying to blend in fill-flash at sunset with real golden hour light, I’ll start with a half-cut of CTO and then change to a full-cut as the sun drops to the horizon. If you want to warm up your general flash shots just a bit without making it obvious, try a quarter- or eighth-cut CTO.
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Rocky Mountain School of Photography is hosting me this week as the instructor of their summer Flash Photography workshop (info here). We’ve been shooting for the past two days in Missoula’s old Macy’s department store. The space is a photographer’s dream come true: two floors, high ceilings, huge windows, and walls covered with a wide array of colors and textures collected through the decades.
As beautiful as windowlight is, windowlight by itself is not always beauty light. Compare the two photos above. The shot on the left is windowlight alone. The shot on the right is windowlight plus fill flash from a 60″ white umbrella. Can you see how the addition of the fill flash conceals facial shadows and smooths the skin?
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I just finished my first year as the full-time art+photography teacher at Mission Prep here in San Luis Obispo. Many would think, after nine months of wrangling teens, that it’s time for me to take a break. To the contrary, I’m busier now than I’ve been in a long while. Put another way, when it comes to summer jobs, I have many.
First up is the complete revision of my Speedliter’s Handbook–the second edition of which will be published next fall by Peachpit Press. In addition to the inclusion of the new radio-enabled 600EX-RT Speedlite system, I am updating all of my workflows and my gear recommendations based on the insights I’ve gained since the original Handbook was published four years ago. You can bet that I’ll be beta-testing a lot of the new content as posts here on PixSylated. Grab a free email subscription if you want to keep up with with these posts.
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High-speed action in broad daylight requires high-speed fill flash. High-speed in this case means two things: the fast shutter speeds enabled by Speedlites in high-speed sync AND speeding up the flash recycling time by using an external power pack to recharge the Speedlites.
I’ve covered high-speed sync (HSS) many times on PixSylated. [For an introduction to HSS, check out this Simple Truths article.] The short version is that HSS changes the way the Speedlite fires. HSS enables the use of shutter speeds faster than the camera’s sync speed—1/250″ on most DSLRs.
The downside to HSS is that turning the Speedlite into a near-continuous light source (even for a fraction of a second) consumes a bunch of power. My tests have shown that HSS consumes 2.5 stops of light—which is the equivalent of turning a Speedlite’s maximum output from full-power down to 1/6 power. For fill flash, this power loss is not a big issue. It’s only when you are shooting day-for-night that you need to overcome the HSS hit by using an arsenal of Speedlites (like I did here).
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HeySyl.com, my question and answer blog officially launched over the holiday weekend. You can check out the list of inaugural topics below. If you see a resemblance between the HeySyl logo and the PixSylated logo, it is no coincidence. I created HeySyl.com as a repository of answers to reader questions. PixSylated.com will continue to present original content and resources that I find valuable.
If you would like to get the new HeySyl Q&A posts delivered by email, grab a free subscription here. If you already subscribe to PixSylated and you want the new Q&A delivered as well, you will need update your subscription preferences.
Click here to submit a question to HeySyl.
HeySyl’s First Questions—A Baker’s Dozen
I just launched a new feature on PixSylated. “Hey Syl” is a convenient way to send in questions about lighting and imagemaking.
The most interesting questions will be posted along with my answers on the Hey Syl page. When the Q&A builds up enough content, it will be sorted and arranged as a FAQ.
Why am I seeking questions? Three reasons:
- I receive question daily anyway. This new system makes it easier for readers to ask. It also means that the questions will no longer get lost in the flood of other emails that come in daily.
- In the past when a good question comes in and I provide a detailed answer, I often think that a whole lot of people probably want that answer too, especially if it pertains to a specific camera or Speedlite. So, now the answers will be posted online and eventually the Q&A will be searchable.
- I recently started work on the second edition of the Speedliter’s Handbook–which will be published next autumn. So, this is a great way for me to learn what Speedliters want to know about lighting and how to work their gear.
Have a question? Click here.
We photographers add loads of tension to our lives. We work so hard to perfect our craft, but continue to think that we are not good enough yet. We stress over not having the right gear. We find all kinds of reasons to not shoot and to not share our photos.
Most of us, who are serious about creating great images, remember a time when making photographs was fun, spontaneous, and easy. Yet, we get all tangled up and photography becomes a stressor rather than a release.
I wrote years ago that I take mental photos all the time (LIDLIPS #36 here). I’d see something interesting and say “Snap.” Now, I reach for my iPhone and take that snap. I try to do this at least once a day–stop my life for a moment and make a photo for the joy of making the photo.
These pix don’t have to relate to anything. They are not part of a series. Many of them are not even “good.” That does not matter. What does matter is that when I’m inspired by or drawn to something I see, I stop and shoot. It’s so easy to decide not to shoot for a million reasons. It’s so easy to decide to shoot as well.
I’ve been posting these snaps on Instagram for the past six weeks. I avoided the Instagram craze for a long time. Now, I find it’s a convenient way to stay connected to the playfullness that brought me into photography way back when.
Natural light photographers often advocate placing your subject in open shade. When compared to the harsh shadows of midday sun, the benefit of open shade is that the shadows are very soft because the light comes at your subject from a wide range of angles across the dome of the sky. The downside to open shade is that the low contrast of the light (the difference between the brightest highlights and the darkest shadows) creates an image that lacks texture and depth. Fortunately, a single Speedlite can add a lot of magic to the shot.
Shadows reveal depth and texture. Compare the two shots above. Figure 1 was shot in the open shade on the north side of a cliff. Figure 2 is the same exposure with the addition of a Speedlite set very close to the rock wall and zoomed very tight. The pop of flash is the only difference between the two shots. Note how the shadows of the rock in Figure 2 allow you to see the texture of the surface. (See this article for more insight on using Zoom as a creative tool.)
Shadows also create a sense of time. Note also how the angles of the shadows in Figure 2 suggest that the sun is low in the sky. We know instinctively that long, raking shadows mean the sun is close to the horizon. Since there are no well-defined shadows in the Ambient-only shot, there is no sense of time.
Color also plays a key role in perceiving the time of day. When the sun is near the horizon, our atmosphere warms the light. In contrast, open shade is very cool (bluish) because the rays of sunlight literally bounce off the dome of the sky on their way to the subject. You can see the cool cast of open shade in Figs. 3 and 4, below. Both images were made with my camera’s white balance set to Daylight.
To mimic the effect of late afternoon sun, I shifted the Color Temperature slider (Fig. 5) in Lightroom from the camera’s white balance setting of 5200K to 9500K. Compare Figure 3 to Figure 2 and Figure 4 to Figure 1 to see the effect of this color shift.
Are you wondering why I did not use a CTO (amber-colored) gel on my Speedlite to shift the color of the flash? If I had, then there would be an unnatural difference between the cool ambient light and my flash. Without the CTO gel, I was able to lift the ambient and flash together with a simple move of the Color Temperature slider.
So, how big of a difference can one Speedlite make? Figure 6 below is my best effort in Lightroom at optimizing the Ambient-only shot to match the overall luminance of the Ambient+Flash shot. I’ve dropped Figure 2, the Ambient+Flash shot, back in below so that you can make a close comparison. Feel free to leave your thoughts on the differences as a comment.
These shots were made as part of a demo that I did recently at Peter Read Miller’s sports photography workshop in Denver. For more information on Peter’s workshops, click here.
Is a week-long summer photography workshop right for you? It depends upon whether you want to invest a week shooting and lighting or spend a week lounging around the pool. I love the workshop-way of teaching photography—collaborative, hands-on, and fun. If you are looking to take your understanding of lighting to a higher level, then I hope that you will join me for one of my week-long workshops this summer.
Rocky Mountain Workshops
Missoula, Montana • June 14–20, 2014
Rocky Mountain School of Photography runs a wide range of great photo courses in beautiful Missoula, Montana and at locations across the country. My Flash Photography workshop will replace fear about lighting with understanding and empowerment. We will start with the basics and build daily so that you can make informed decisions about how to shoot with flash in a wide-range of situations. The workshop includes location shoots both indoors and out. Workshop information.
Santa Fe Photographic Workshops
Crafting Dramatic Light With Small Strobes
Santa Fe, New Mexico • July 6–13, 2014
This will be my third summer teaching in Santa Fe. The workshop is open to shooters of all brands of gear. We learn to manage the ambient light with our camera settings and then to shape light and shadow with electronic flash. The emphasis is on crafting dramatic light—light the way you want it to be. We use hotshoe flash as well as lightweight, battery-pack strobes, plus an arsenal of modifiers, to shoot on a variety of locations around Santa Fe. Note: if you are a Nikonian, as a Nikon-sponsored school, SFPW has Nikon gear available for use by students. Workshop information.
Maine Media Workshops
Canon Speedlites Demystified
Rockport, Maine • August 24–30, 2014
If you are a Canonista who wants to learn to shoot flash, this is the workshop for you. Unlike my other workshops, which are non-denominational, Canon Speedlites Demystified focuses on crafting great light with Canon Speedlites. We will start with one Speedlite and build our way to using multiple Speedlites—including the new, radio-enabled 600EX-RT system. As a Canon-sponsored school, Maine Media has Canon gear available for student use. This will be my fourth summer returning to Maine’s beautiful central coast…maybe it’s the Friday-night lobster feed. Workshop page.
Questions? Feel free to submit them as a comment.
This Week In Photo #348 is now live. I re-join TWiP’s eternally effervescent host, Frederick Van Johnson, and welcome TWiP first-timer Shiv Verma for rousing conversations about the world of photography, including our thoughts on:
- whether we’re grabbing URLs in the new .photography and .camera domains
- why it’s crazy to hire a wedding photographer who posts a Craigslist ad soliciting photos to pad his portfolio
- what happens to photographers who license work for a photo credit and then change their minds
- licensing and business resources available to photographers on ASMP.org
- why we should not trust social media sites as the repositories for our most-precious photos.
We also talk about our picks of the week.
- Frederick = Olympus OMD EM1 at Hunts
- Shiv = Astro motion control device
- Mine = Peter Read Miller on Sports Photography book and Peter Read Miller Sports Photography Workshop
- Bonus = Shiv’s just-published e-book on Time Lapse Imagery
You can watch the video of us recording the podcast (complete with the crazy electric moiré of my shirt) on YouTube.
Follow Syl On Twitter
- Start PhotoPlus w/ me in the @BH_Event_Space 'New Frontiers For LIghting w/ Canon Speedlites' http://t.co/btvJkXN60C, 8 hours ago
- Canonistas: I have three camera bodies and two lenses up for auction on eBay. Auctions end tonight > http://t.co/4SsJTJHKoK, Sep 27
- Trichroic lighting once again in the studio. https://t.co/fMkBb8jRqP, Sep 26
- Free Download: My ‘Exposure Quick Guide’ http://t.co/qR3qnmK7Y0 http://t.co/FqJ7sg6rI2, Sep 17
- I’ll be sharing thoughts on lighting and such through the evening on Twitter, courtesy of @Peachpit. Feel free to submit your questions., Sep 8
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