Picture a huge room with 15 tables, around each table roughly 25 people are gathered, each table being for one Photo Walk instructor. This was where our Photo Walk began.
Some instructors brought strobes and backgrounds and all that sort of stuff, staying in the room with their groups to shoot, while others took their groups to locations outside the room.
For ours, we split the hour and a half between this room and a few locations nearby.
I brought with me for this:
- 1 camera with a 24-70mm lens
- 1 flash set to TTL, remotely controlled
What we were doing here was seeing how fast and effectively one can use this basic set up, in any conditions.
This was the first shot we did:
Our model here is Tory, a beautiful young lady who is an actress from LA and a photographer at the same time.
This shot was actually taken in the room where we began, in order to demonstrate that it doesn’t matter what light there is when you have flash. And we brought Tory into the corner because the corner is one of the best places for flash photography.
Why the corner? You’ll find that corners are often used in fashion photography because they have that energy which concentrates into one point, plus the walls serve as reflectors – whatever light you throw at the corner, it’s going to wrap around the subject very nicely.
So with that all in place, my concern was no longer with lighting because it’s going to be consistent and it’s TTL. Instead, my concern was how to picture Tory here in the most interesting way.
In this scenario, I cared about the background texture in addition to the overall feel and look, so I decided to take Tory sitting in the chair, flash to my left, and f/16 so that it’s a super-sharp and crisp image.
As Peter Hurley would say, SHA-BANG!
For the next shot, we stepped outside:
We couldn’t shoot inside the MGM hotel because it’s forbidden since it’s a casino, so we had very limited places and limited spaces where we could do this. Even so, using this off-camera TTL flash technique, you can see how it’s not that hard to create quality, professional-level images.
At the same time however, it’s important to tell a story as well. If we were just shooting Tory and posing her here and there without any particular interest or meaning, it would look really boring and kind of fake.
So with the first image as introduction, in this second image she is now outside and there is a certain type of mystery developing: What’s behind those doors of Studio B? We don’t really know… It’s an interesting light and she’s wearing an evening dress, so maybe it’s something like a studio club and she’s just stopped for a moment before going in, looking off somewhere…
Our imagination is invited into the image and begins to fill in the gaps and come up with a story.
Again, the beauty of the off-camera TTL flash technique here is that I can make my aperture any number since the flash is powerful and all I have to concern myself with, is how bright my subject is against the background, or how bright my background is compared to my subject. Whichever I want to emphasize, that’s how I’ll set my camera. Essentially we’re painting with light here and I’m not limited to anything: not to ISO, nor to shutter speed. All I am limited to is my imagination.
So for this shot, I decided to make the background ever so slightly darker than the foreground in order to subtly separate my subject from the background. I could have made it much darker, but I didn’t. You can see how I also made a separation using depth of field, shooting at f/5.6.
[Quick side note: Before we settled on this location, I offered everyone to find a place to shoot and one of the students proposed shooting Tory against the WPPI poster with all the pictures in the background. This brought up an important point about being aware of using other people’s pictures in the background of your images:
Particularly if you’re planning on selling those images, you have to be very careful because you can potentially be sued for copyright infringement.
I find that aesthetically it rarely works well anyway, though there are a few examples where it has of course, but just the copyright issue alone would stop me from doing that.]
Here is another option we have from this location:
With this image I wanted to demonstrate how we are masters of environment with off-camera TTL flash, so I made a 1 second exposure at f/16 or f/11. The flash freezes the movement on the foreground subject so that she is tack-sharp and in focus, all one has to care about is the background light and we’re letting that light in while this one second exposure happens.
Another thing: the background is kind of moving and that’s a deliberate effect. At a one second exposure, the camera has a natural shake handheld that can only be eliminated with the use of a tripod.
Flash is top left, 45°, held by my assistant, and as you saw – those of you who were there – set up for this shot was very easy and all we were primarily focussed on and discussing was questions of what we were going to create: What did we want to project? What did we want to create a mood of? What kind of mood? What kind of story? Etc.
Here we tried the technique with two flashes and, as you can see, she’s against the elevator with a reflective surface. From the left there is flash with red gel, from the right there is flash with blue gel.
It’s a different mood, but at the same time it fits within the story as well.
Alternately, we can present this image in black and white, if we wished to continue our story in the B&W format we began with:
One more option from this location before we move on:
Here you can see that the red light goes higher and the blue light is a bit lower. I’m demonstrating how I can control my lights for differing effect: moving the flash fired from the left lower, I create a more defined split between the two lights in the background. If I wanted, I could even add another flash from the bottom, say with green a green gel, to add another layer, and so forth.
Again, the point here is to use your imagination, the rest is pretty much done for you. Fortunately nowadays flashes are very smart: you can just put them in TTL and forget all the problems photographers of yore used to worry about.
For our next shot we continue to implement the technique using two flashes, this time with red and yellow gels:
You can see that this image has a cinematic feel to it and again, it continues our story-line. In the previous frame she was happy, but here she’s concerned. Perhaps her date is not coming and she’s all alone… Can a girl this pretty stay alone for long? All these sorts of questions are evoked by this picture within the context of our series.
My primary concern is on the story I’m telling and the meaning my pictures are conveying – not so much the light. Light is simple: one from the left, one from the right, and check your camera’s LCD monitor to see what you have.
Here’s an alternate take from this scene:
Again, one light from the left and one light from the right, flare comes from the red-gelled flash and the light from the left is with a yellow gel. Story is still revealed here, however the mood of the lighting is different from the previous take and therefore conveys a slightly different content. We can choose either option depending on the story we wish to tell.
I present different options here from the same locations only to show the variety that can be achieved, but in the final selection from this shoot we can chose one from each spot.
To wrap up, there are really two main points I want you to take away:
- Flash is easy.
- Don’t use flash just for the sake of flash – create a story. The light has to match the story. There is no wrong flash or bad flash, just as there is no bad light. There is only the light that tells your story. You just have to decide what that story is going to be.
Be a creator and don’t be afraid of flash.
Even though our Photo Walk may have had more of a fashion/editorial look to it, my points apply even if you’re shooting a bride: don’t just take her around to places and shoot her in this or that light, putting her on the floor or wherever without any narrative threading through your images. It might look cute, but it won’t be as interesting or captivating if you would create a story.
(Of course, when you’re in the wedding you have to make sure you have all the important shots that sell, because at the end of the day that’s what you’re there to deliver. But once you know that you’ve got what you need to sell, then you can experiment in this way.)
Here we didn’t use anything fancy like soft-boxes, just bare flash with gels, and you saw how effective this simple set up can actually be.
We had only 90 minutes to do everything, the first 40 of which were spent talking in the beginning before we even got to any shooting. We shot at 3 locations outside the main room and the actual minutes we spent shooting these images I’d say numbered between 15 to 20, if that.
We were also just randomly using places without even knowing where we were going to go. All we had was the little bit of story in my head, but already each image is different in its feel, so just imagine how effective and great your shoot can be working like this if you prepare in advance!
Anyway, that’s my take on this year’s Photo Walk and those of you who attended will receive these image files by email. If you attended but forgot to leave me your email, please contact me and I will send you those pictures in high resolution.
For everyone else, thanks so much for reading and if you found this helpful, please leave me a comment in the section below. I’d love to hear your thoughts!
See you next time,
P.S. – If you would like to learn more and have a masterclass on this in your pocket, you can get my educational cards here: www.weddinganatomy.com/store
They’re an excellent resource for tons more off-camera flash ideas like the ones we did here. Check them out!
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