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Going Max Cliché While Learning About Off-Camera Flash
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Cliché At Every Level there's a reason Abercrombie & Fitch does not use 46-year-old models  --  Kyoto, Japan  --  Copyright 2012 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D700 + Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 — 1/160 sec, f/7.1, ISO 1000 — image data
Cliché At Every Level
there's a reason Abercrombie & Fitch does not use 46-year-old models

Let me say up front that I know the photos on this post are ridiculous. I think the type is ridiculous even when done seriously (e.g. in a “fashion” catalog), but all the more so when done by someone my age. I'm just trying to learn to cut loose a little while also learning about off-camera flash; I'd appreciate if your laughs are with me instead of at me.

この記事はとんでもない写真ばかりですが、友に笑ってくれば嬉しい。この記事のテーマは撮影スタジオのスピードライト(光のストロボ)の試しレポートです。撮影者撮影対象は私です。「撮影者」の方は本気、「撮影対象」の方は冗談ポクで遊びです。

As I noted last month in “Trying a Little Formal Portraiture” and a couple of weeks ago in “Impromptu Portraiture Practice”, I'm interested in improving my ability to take portraits. Technically, I'm comfortable with natural light, but I'd also like to have confidence in using artificial lighting, so I set up a little home studio in my living room for an afternoon of testing.

And in the spirit I mentioned in the first link, of feeling the need to learn how to be more comfortable in front of the camera as well, I used myself as the “model”, a role I'm definitely not comfortable with.

My “Studio” for the afternoon  --  Kyoto, Japan  --  Copyright 2012 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24mm f/1.4 — 1/400 sec, f/5, ISO 7200 — image data
My “Studio”
for the afternoon

I'd bought a Savage “EasyCloth” black background roll and hung it from the curtain rails. I don't really have enough space for full-lengths shots of me without using a wider lens, so my feet are cut off, apparently an unforgivable mistake. Still, so long as I don't invite Nils over, I'm likely the tallest person I'll have to consider. And anyway, my goal was to practice lighting, not produce a usable portrait.

It's been years since I read Strobist, having given up on ever feeling comfortable with artificial lighting, but a few tips came back to me, especially since I played with one light last month for “Prucia Plum Wine from France, and Some Dramatic Lighting”.

First, I picked an exposure that crushed the ambient light.... if I took a photo without any flash, the result would be essentially black. This allowed me to take the ambient light out of the equation, giving me full control (sort of, see below) of any light that made its way to the final result.

I had borrowed a bunch of speedlights so I could try pretty complex stuff, but I thought it best to start with something really simple, something that's been done a million times before. As an artist it's not good to be cliché, but I think it's important to at least have the basic ability to be cliché before discarding a technique. I learn by doing, not by being snobbish about being an “artist”. So, I embraced it and went full-on cliché all the way.

In this case, that meant a simple two-light setup, one almost-directly on either side of the target...

Flashes one easy to see at lower left, another on the table midway-up on the far right  --  Kyoto, Japan  --  Copyright 2012 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D700 + Nikkor 24mm f/1.4 — 1/160 sec, f/7.1, ISO 1000 — image data
Flashes
one easy to see at lower left, another on the table midway-up on the far right

Of course, when I took the real photos, I used a zoomier lens to exclude all but the black backdrop and the me standing in front of it.

There's a little square of tape on the floor in front of the cloth... I pre-focused to that point by having Anthony stand in for me (he was actually in the photo above, but I removed him for this post), then tethered the camera to Lightroom so that I could see the results of the shots right away. Sometimes I'd use the 5-second timer to take the shot myself, and sometimes when I could wrangle him I'd have Anthony press the button.

High Tech Pro-Level Equipment flash on camera left  --  Kyoto, Japan  --  Copyright 2012 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 — 1/400 sec, f/1.4, ISO 1000 — image data
High Tech Pro-Level Equipment
flash on camera left
Super High Tech flash on camera right  --  Kyoto, Japan  --  Copyright 2012 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 — 1/400 sec, f/1.4, ISO 640 — image data
Super High Tech
flash on camera right

The baffling around and above the flashes is to prevent light spill, onto the black backdrop and, more importantly, onto the ceiling. The room's ceiling is white, and reflections from it were filling in the shadows that I hoped the hard light from the bare speedlight would create. My makeshift baffles in my makeshift studio helped to some extent.

I tried various manual power levels for the two flashes, for example, the flash at camera left at 1/40th power and the flash at camera right at 1/20th power. Through trial and error I could come up with different results, though unfortunately the data about what flashes were at what power was not saved anywhere, either by the camera or by me.

Once I got a basic handle on the setup, I turned off the air conditioning and did a bunch of pushups, as I always do before I ever touch a camera, of course.

Early Attempt  --  Kyoto, Japan  --  Copyright 2012 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D700 + Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 — 1/160 sec, f/7.1, ISO 1000 — image data
Early Attempt

I'm holding a Nikon D4 in the photos (as a prop because, you know, my hobby is photography and, you know, I always have my shirt off when I take pictures), but I used a Nikon D700 to take the shots because it can control the two flashes directly, something even the D4 can't do.

This kind of shot is all about creating shadows, so I pushed the camera-right flash slightly behind the line I was standing on, to try to create a bit more shadow across the body. The result, though, strongly depended on the slight changes in how I stood, so the immediate feedback from tethering to Lightroom was very useful.

In post processing, I crushed the blacks and the contrast. The former drops out any hint of the background, and the latter helps accentuate the shadows. (Otherwise, it really is me; most people I showed these to in real life who haven't seen me lately thought I had Photoshopped my head onto someone else's body, but they normally don't see me without a shirt, and I think it's fair to say that I've made some progress in working out in the two months since I faired so badly on a simple mountain hike.)

A Bit Moodier having stood a bit further back to let the camera-left light wrap more  --  Kyoto, Japan  --  Copyright 2012 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D700 + Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 — 1/160 sec, f/7.1, ISO 1000 — image data
A Bit Moodier
having stood a bit further back to let the camera-left light wrap more

And just going with the flow of this dark, high-contrasty look...

“Raging Bull” or something like that  --  Kyoto, Japan  --  Copyright 2012 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D700 + Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 — 1/160 sec, f/7.1, ISO 1000 — image data
“Raging Bull”
or something like that

The difference in flash setup (power and location) was minimal among all these; what I really learned is how a subtle change in body angle can make such a big difference in result. It wouldn't be the case, I'm sure, if the light was “soft” (e.g. from a wide area like a large window), but with the hard light from the small area of an undiffused flash head, small movements can have huge effects.

After I got a shower and had started to pack everything up, I realized that I had missed the most cliché shot of all, so quickly snapped the shot that leads this post. I must have already removed the baffles on the flashes because the shadows are not nearly as sharp. Or maybe the pushups had worn off.

I really need to get some jeans that fit, but that's difficult for someone like me in Japan. (Update: I eventually got in good enough shape that I could get a 32x34" from Uniqlo and it fit, and eventually after that, even it got too big!)


Comments so far....

Strobist is definitely the place to go to learn about off-camera flash, but if you’re not so dedicated you can also check out Joe McNally’s book ‘The Hotshoe Diaries’. It’s not a manual (Joe says so repeatedly throughout the book), but it is a…what? An explanation into the use of flash -and how he uses it from one of the most dedicated photographers out there. Browse throught it at the bookstore or sign it out from the library and you’ll know if it’s for you.

Mike.

— comment by Mike Nelson Pedde on July 26th, 2012 at 8:57am JST (1 year, 9 months ago) comment permalink

I liked the effect you reached in “Cliché At Every Level”.

Two books that I found useful for learning howw to use my Nikon speedlights: Mike Hagen – The Nikon Creative Lighting System, and J. Dennis Thomas – Nikon Creative Lighting System Digital Field Guide”.

Also, I was really helped by a recent CreativeLive workshop given by Mark Wallace, which is at: creativelive.com/courses/speedlights-101-mark-wallace.

Regards,

Tom

— comment by Tom in SF on July 26th, 2012 at 10:30am JST (1 year, 9 months ago) comment permalink

Ok first: I’m going to have to thank you for figuratively pitching your sister an easy one right over the plate like this.

Second:
“I’d appreciate if your laughs are with me instead of at me.”

Riiiiiiiight. I’m your *SISTER*. Obviously, you’ve mistaken me for someone who might be kind.

Third:
I see England, I see France….

Fourth:
Count me as one who thought “photoshopped”. I had to read the post several times through before my reeling brain finally accepted ‘not photoshopped”.

However, I do know you played around in Lightroom. I usually really like your adjustments. However, in this series you ramped the contrast, clarity & studliness WAAAAAY to high to be comfortably believable (for a sister, anyway).

Finally, a better caption to “Raging Bull ” would be “You wouldn’t Like Me When I’m Angry”.

-Marci

— comment by Marcina (Bellingham, WA) on July 26th, 2012 at 10:55am JST (1 year, 9 months ago) comment permalink

In the last image, bottom portion of your left hand looks like a hard plastic prosthetic for not reflecting enough light.

As the dark shadow blob on lower portion of the face is very distracting, please do try again with different flash(es) and/or placement so the flash light is not blocked by the shoulder. I think if the flash (on your right) were to remain at the same height but moved just behind your shoulder would avoid the dark blob (sure, image would change, other new issues might come up).

Yeah, shadows on the face was something I didn’t think about until after it was done. I should probably just have moved the camera-left flash higher. So many details to pay attention to… —Jeffrey

— comment by parv on July 26th, 2012 at 1:56pm JST (1 year, 9 months ago) comment permalink

Bold moves there! And, my sister would give me endless reams $h!7 if I were to ever put up something similar.

But, what I want to know more about: why the heck the D4 doesn’t handle the remote flash control when the lil’ole D700 will? I’d think these sorts of things were built into the flagship camera.

The D700 has a pop-up flash, something considered by some to be too “amateur” for a pro-level camera. I don’t think I’ve ever used the pop-up flash to light something, but it’s sure convenient being able to use it in commander mode, and maybe to add a bit of catchlight in a subject’s eyes. It’d be nice if the D4 had a very simple flash that could do these things. —Jeffrey

— comment by Foobert on July 28th, 2012 at 3:55pm JST (1 year, 9 months ago) comment permalink

Jeffery- just wondering what made you choose D4 over D800? Sorry if you answered this elsewhere.

I actually mentioned it in a comment on the post that follows this one. —Jeffrey

— comment by Dave on July 29th, 2012 at 1:23am JST (1 year, 9 months ago) comment permalink

For perfect lighting you can also check out Neil van Niekerk’s Tangents blog as a great source for on- and off-camera flash photography. His approach is very simple and uncomplicated and his success as a world-renowned wedding and portrait photographer speaks for itself. His motto: Making flash not look like flash

Cool, thanks, will check it out. —Jeffrey

— comment by Thomas on July 29th, 2012 at 11:25pm JST (1 year, 9 months ago) comment permalink

Holy crap, Jeffrey! You’re a frickin’ A&F model at 46! I’m not laughing at you at all — it’s all admiration. I too thought you had Photoshopped it. I think I like the top pic the best. You’re a handsome man, my friend!

Shawn

— comment by Shawn on February 17th, 2013 at 5:08am JST (1 year, 2 months ago) comment permalink

Hey have you ever considered not moderating comments a priori and just removing bad ones after the fact? Or have you had some bad experiences in the past with it? No stress, just wondering.

I used to do that, but too much spam got through. Also, people sometimes use comments to communicate private things. I wish I didn’t have to use comment moderation, but it’s pretty much required in this open scenario. —Jeffrey

— comment by Shawn on February 17th, 2013 at 5:10am JST (1 year, 2 months ago) comment permalink
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