flash, speedlight, photography

When we buy our first speedlight, the biggest thing we need to learn is how to use use it off-camera. And there are so many shots which can be improved by doing so, from portraits at the beach, to product photography, to macro shots of plants.

However another great use of the off-camera flash is when you are faced with having to take a photo during the day when the sun is bright or you have an ugly background which you don’t wish to be seen in the shot.

In this case you can set the camera and flash up in such a way as to remove as much ambient light as possible through the use of the off-camera flash. The above photo for example was taken in our back garden in the middle of the day. The sun was shining brightly overhead and the boring iron fence and a few trees were the only background seen when composing the shot.

So how did we take this this low-key photograph to remove all that harsh sunlight and background? Well, let’s take you through the steps of this very easy-to-do shot.

  1. Set up your camera (minus the speedlight), with a suitable lens and remote trigger on a tripod for a nice steady shot. You can hold the camera but our motto is if you have the time and location, why risk any camera movement or blur when you don’t need to. In our case we used our 70-300mm lens for a nice compression.
  2. Set your camera to Manual option and the shutter speed at the highest flash sync speed (normally 1/200 or 1/250th), and the ISO to 100 or as low as it goes on your camera. We used 1/200th and ISO 100.
  3. You now need to set your aperture until you end up with nothing but black when taking a shot. Ours was f16 but for others it could be any where between f11 to f22.
  4. Next we set up a garden chair at a suitable distance from the camera so that we could include head and shoulders in the photo. Rather than set the chair to face the camera we turned it 45 degrees to the right so that the subject (Trevor) would be facing to camera left.
  5. We then set up a light stand directly in front of the seat with a partially collapsed black/silver reflective umbrella. The speedlight with remote trigger was then attached to the light stand, aiming into the umbrella, so the light would bounce back onto Trevor’s face. Being the middle of the day, the speedlight was set to full power, but depending on the time of day and strength of the ambient light you may be able to reduce that to 1/4.
  6. Depending upon the amount of sunlight you may need to practice with a few shots. If you are still not getting enough light bounced back onto the face, you can try facing the speedlight directly at the subject and using a diffuser to soften the light, or if you have a second speedlight you can trying using two to bounce the light onto the subject’s face.
  7. A couple of things to beware of: Do not have your subject too close to the background or you may find the light will spill past your subject and light up the background as well. By using a slightly collapsed umbrella to bounce the light back you can more easily restrict the direction of the light onto the face and not all over the person’s body. And if you are still not getting the effect you want try moving the light stand closer to your subject – just warn them not to look directly at the speedlight when it activates.
  8. And lastly, in post production if you find you do have any annoying background that did not get blacked out completely, you can easily use something like Adobe Lightroom’s adjustment brush to darken those spots.

I’m sure you will find a ton of uses for this very easy to use technique for a wide range of indoor and outdoor photographs. Let us know how you go and what sort of shots you were able to take.

Living each adventure,
Chris and Trev Barre

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How to use your off-camera flash to turn day into night!

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