Off Camera Lighting (Part 2 of 3)

The first thing we talked about in part one was to get the flash off the camera.  Still, with just the bare flash you might notice that the light is still harsh and that the extreme shadows remain.  While not all shadows are bad and there may be instances where you want that look it isn’t typically the desired effect.  So, how do you fix this?  There is a very good rule to live by when you are working with any light source.  The closer you have the light the softer the light will be and the larger the light the softer the light.  I know it sounds backward but it is the truth.  Take the sun for instance.  When it is high in the sky you get very harsh light with extreme shadows.  This is because it is 93,000,000 miles away and is a very small light source.  Then, think about what you get when you have cloud cover.  The clouds become a massive and relatively close diffuse light source.  This light source does not produce harsh shadows and has a softer look.  Notice too that the colors are more vibrant.

So, how do we make our small flash a larger softer light source?  You have a couple of options.  You can bounce it off the wall or ceiling if you happen to have a white one around.  Just remember that whatever you bounce off of or shoot through will affect the color of the light.  For instance is you had a green wall and you decided to bounce the flash off that you would end up with a green tint to your images.  If your subject was the Incredible Hulk this might be acceptable but generally speaking you should avoid this.  Most of the time however, walls and/or ceilings are white. Lucky us!!

My personal preference is to have the light pass through a diffuser such as a translucent umbrella or softbox. Hand held, fold out reflectors/diffusers work great for this too but require either an assistant or additional stands and arms. If you do not have an off camera flash and you find yourself out in the middle of the day grab one of the hand held reflectors/diffusers. Try to position it between the sun and your subject and you will get beautiful results. This is because you are taking the small, powerful and far away source of light (the sun) and turning it into a large, close and diffuse light source.

It is the light that we use to create our images and tell our stories. I encourage you to learn all you can about how lighting works, both natural and artificial. You will be come a better photographer as you learn to see the light and understand its effects.   

Stay tuned for Lighting Part 3 as we discuss artificial lighting options such as strobes, reflectors, lightstands, softboxes, umbrellas and much more.

Be sure to check out Part 1 here.