So, I’ve arrived two weeks early for my upcoming ‘Canon Speedlites Demystified‘ workshop in Maine. (There are still a couple of seats open here, in case you’re interested.) With the introduction of Canon’s 600EX-RT system last spring, I’m really looking forward to sharing what I’ve learned about maximizing the benefits of the built-in radio communication between master and slave. The shot above of my friend Alex Huff on her balcony above San Francisco is an example of a situation where the new Canon radio gear made my shoot much simpler. Let’s take a look.
Shooting On A Wafer-Thin Balcony
Alex’s balcony is 4′ deep and 8′ wide…maybe. So there was barely any room out there for Alex, me, and my lighting gear. Nevertheless, she gamely climbed into the corner of the railing as I pushed the Kacey Beauty Reflector in close on the boom of an Avenger C-Stand. I’ve been a fan of the Kacey Beauty Reflector for many years. It’s essentially a 22″ Mola beauty dish that is made of rugged plastic rather than metal. As you can see above and below, it’s designed to mount a pair of Speedlites stacked head-to-head. An internal disk intercepts the light from the flashes and sends it backwards and sideways. The effect is that the light becomes very soft while still maintaining some directional quality to the shadows. For a shoot like this, the flexibility and strength of a boomed C-stand is the only way to go. Note that I used two sandbags to keep it in place.
Now this is a situation where optically-triggered slaves would have been a pain. The only place on the balcony I could stand was to the left of the beauty reflector–with my back crammed up against the wall of the building. The geometry just wasn’t there to do this shoot with old-school optical links between master and slaves. If you shoot Canon, the optical eyes on your Speedlites are on the front–right up against the bracket of the beauty dish. If you shoot Nikon, the optical eyes are on the right side of your Speedlights–so they face in opposite directions when mounted to the Kacey.
Canon’s new radio link between master and slaves is made for situations like this. I did not have to worry about maintaining a line-of-sight connection between my camera and the Speedlites on the back of the Kacey. As conveniently, I could control the whole system from the easy-to-read menu on my camera’s LCD panel. So, despite the tight quarters, I was able to concentrate on my subject and the shoot.
Managing The Exposure
My simple formula for location lighting begins with an evaluation of how my camera records the ambient light. Take a look at the shot below. This is how my camera captured the late-afternoon light. It’s also a fair representation of how I saw the world in front of my lens. The sun had just dipped below the horizon, but it was not yet blue hour.
For consistency from frame-to-frame, I did this shoot with my camera in Manual mode. Then, as I changed the composition from wide to narrow, horizontal to vertical, etc. I didn’t have to worry about the exposure changing. As long as the distance between my subject and flash is not changing and as long as the ambient light does not change significantly, I can shoot with the same camera settings.
Dimming the ambient served two purposes. First, it saturated the colors of the sky. Second, it enabled me to light Alex so that she snaps off the background. With the ambient dimmed, you get a sense of her environment, but are encouraged visually to concentrate on her. To dim the ambient, I dialed the shutter speed down about 3 stops from the metered shot above.
I turn my lights on only after I have sorted out the exposure for the ambient light. To keep the lighting consistent from frame to frame, I set the Speedlite Mode to Manual (via the LCD on my camera). Then I dial the power on the flashes up and down (again via the LCD on my camera) until I have the light that I want.
NYC. Sept 19. B&H Event Space.
I will be speaking about my work with Canon’s new Speedlite system in the B&H Event Space at 1pm on Wednesday, September 19. Registration for my talk–New Frontiers for Lighting with Canon Speedlites–will open soon. I’ll post the link here as soon as it goes live. Thanks to the generous support of Canon, this event is free.
> More details about this shoot will appear in my upcoming book Light and Lighting.
> I wrote a detailed piece on the new Speedlite system for Canon Europe. You can read it here.
> Watch my hands-on video about the new 600EX-RT here on Vimeo.
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