Photographers. We like to shoot and flash people.
With our cameras.
Sorry, I just had to throw that one out there!
Anyway. Our latest assignment for Advanced Techniques in Photojournalism was to use a single flash to overpower the existing light in our photo. We were to do this in two different takes:
- Bounce flash — This could be either on or off the camera.
- Direct flash — This had to be off-camera, meaning a shoe cord would be necessary.
I’ve done some flash work before, so I wasn’t as uncomfortable with this assignment as I was in the studio for our classmate portraits. Although I’d never used guide numbers and formulas to calculate how I should power up my strobe, I’ve done work with both manual and TTL flashes before. When I worked at Philmont Scout Ranch in 2006, the photo department was still using film (Pentax 6×7′s — what glorious old beasts!), which we developed and then printed ourselves. So of course any strobe work we did was completely manual, and I’m still very proud of a few exposures I made wherein you can determine that a strobe was used only by a few small shadows.
Most recently, I photo’ed senior portraits of my friend Chelsea’s brother Zak. In preparation for this shoot, I photo’ed Chelsea herself and was really pleased with how the below image came out, what with the sunlight acting as a hairlight and the flash acting as the main light source:
But for this class assignment, we couldn’t set anything up. So for my first take — in which I used the strobe as a direct flash — I went to open mic at Mojo’s on Monday. Here’s my select shot from that take:
I had a really hard time with the direct flash take. All my images of the first few performers at the open mic section were coming out terribly, as if they were taken with a dinky point-and-shoot camera and not a DSLR and off-camera flash… that is, everything was overblown and just awful. Awful, awful, awful.
Plus, I was using my flash on manual mode, not TTL. Before I even began the class, my good friend Esten told me always to shoot on manual. I said I would only if I wasn’t under pressure, at least not until I became more comfortable with strobe work.
Well, I changed my mind. When former Maneater photo editor Ryan Gladstone and I shot the Missouri-Kansas mens basketball game in Lawrence, Kan., in January 2007, he asked me what mode I was using to shoot. I said I was shooting on aperture-priority, at which he shook his head and advised me to always shoot on manual. I said I would start trying that after the game. And I did. And I grew to like having complete control over my exposures, and now I can’t shoot any other way.
Same principle with TTL-vs-manual. I tried TTL for two exposures at Mojo’s and decided I hated it. So I switched to manual, and eventually gained a better mastery over using the flash off-camera and snapped a few frames I liked.
I chose the one above because a) it captures a decent moment/expression and b) the flash hits Sam’s face just right and illuminates Anna’s face just enough. Had Anna’s face been as illuminated as Sam’s, this photo wouldn’t work as well as it does. And I love how you can tell that Sam absolutely loves what he’s doing in this song.
My second take went a lot more smoothly. Originally, I was going to shoot the bounce-flash take at the Cherry Street Artisan on Wednesday, when they would be holding Latin Dance. But then I ended up staying in Jefferson City until 1:30 a.m. on Thursday (today) and didn’t make the 10 p.m. Latin Dance event.
Fortunately, on Monday, I’d spoken with House Communications Director Barry Bennett and found out that the House Republicans and Democrats would be holding press conferences upon the House’s adjournment today (since the legislators’ spring break began this afternoon). So I ended up photographing that for my bounce-flash take.
While the light in the House Lounge — where the press conferences were held — wasn’t absolutely awful, it wasn’t ideal either. There were the overhead lights, as well as two TV lights. Plus, I knew I wouldn’t be able to bounce the flash off the walls, which are covered in Thomas Hart Benton’s paintings. Fortunately, the ceiling is white. Unfortunately, it’s about 25 feet high.
So I had to racket up my flash quite a bit. For some of my exposures, I had it on high-power. For most of my exposures, I had it set on 105mm and a 1/1 ratio to make sure it was powerful enough.
Here’s the select shot from my bounce-flash take:
It’s a little dark, granted. There are other shots wherein the main subject is a little better illuminated, but I chose this one because it’s difficult to tell that I used a flash — plus, you can hardly detect the presence of those awful overhead lights and TV lights. And, more often than not, you shouldn’t be able to determine whether or not a flash was used. At least, in my opinion.
I kinda like this one, too:
I did tone this one (but I did not tone two shots I’m turning in). If I weren’t a reporter in the statehouse and relying on interviews with these representatives every now and again, I think I could make a pretty decent LOLcats-style image thing with this. Just the sheer sternness on their faces. You’d think they were steeling themselves against a vicious press corps. Oh wait…