Mum’s Flashing Again

Gala Hill Evening 10-08-12-1000561.jpg

ISO 200, 35mm, f5.5, 1/250 sec

Here’s my darling mother last week. The sun was just about to disappear at this moment and so I took some quick snaps of mum with the last of the light. Note the reflections from the glasses disturbing the eye, lesson learned there! Our walk hadn’t been very successful, some places I thought would be cool turned out to not be cool – I literally ran up the hill in the last 5 minutes of light to try and get a memorial cairn photo, only to find the cairn was too fat in any good shots. Stop building big memorials, think of the photographers, people. Except when I die of course. Then I’m going to have a massive memorial that you need to photograph from space.

The sun started to go. When the light’s low, normally this will happen:

Although the background’s alright, my subject’s gone dark. I could have increased the ISO here (or fixed it in Lightroom) but I wanted to try fill flash to solve the problem. I’ve not tried it before so it would be good practice, and help in my quest to blind my mum. So I forced the camera to fire the flash and experimented with different settings as it got darker and darker outside. The background was too dark in my first shots but upping the ISO to 400 solved that and I got a fairly balanced shot (the other settings were the same as the daylight one):

Try to ignore my mum’s grimacing…

Of course that’s far from perfect but it’s about as good as I’ll get from a standard flash. Pros use flashes on cords, tripods, softboxes to diffuse the light and so on. Again the glasses are a big problem, even worse with flash reflections. I didn’t want to make mum doubly blind so I didn’t make her take them off. A bit of post-processing in Lightroom brings the image out nicely with some contrast boost:

Gala Hill Evening 10-08-12-1000572.jpg

In fact I had to darken the picture overall for this, so originally I should have underexposed I guess. I’m looking forward to trying fill-flash a bit more on my travels! Any further advice on fill-flash and exposure balancing welcome, just leave a comment.

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5 thoughts on “Mum’s Flashing Again

  1. Hey Alan, I’d say that too dark is easier to fix than too light, but go too far either way then there’ll be no data for LR or PS to work with, and if it’s a contrasty shot then you can end up with horrible amounts of chromatic aberration when trying to fix parts of an image that are too light or dark. Incidentally, as well as shooting in to the sun, fill flash can be great for shots away or sideways to the sun Just underexpose the scene slightly using average (whole-frame) metering (even in bright UK light, ISO 100 and a small aperture should keep the shutter speed low enough for flash sync while also getting detail in bright backgrounds, unless it’s very bright, in which case you may want to try something else!), then use the flash to highlight the subjects- it can be great for portraiture, as the flash will have no effect on anything further away, but will lift your subjects out of the background. The only thing you have to watch for using fill flash is that you can end up with some harsh-edged shadows, as you can just start to see with the last pic of your mum (which I really like, incidentally, it’s just you can see a more natural, diffuse shadow under her chin in the first pic). You can fix most/all of that with an off-camera or hotshoe and wireless trigger flash system, and with softboxes or brollies, but as you say, that can get pricey very quickly (and is not exactly portable for a traveler, although I’d seriously recommend a hotshoe flash unit, maybe with a mini-diffuser (something like one of the Gary Fong ones), as the single thing that resulted in the biggest improvement to my photography!

  2. RE: John. In fact I’ve heard the opposite regarding post-processing recently. The argument is that in post-production if you underexpose then the darkest areas will have no image data for you to “rescue” if you want to change the exposure afterwards, whereas if you have data there from overexposing, at least you can make it darker. Would be good to hear more opinions about this!

  3. hahaha – don’t you remember Pete Richardson’s maxim? You can add light into an image – but you can’ take it out? Underexposure is the new black
    🙂 just starting to play with fill flash myself. I’ve got 7 weeks to get it right and then I’m shooting an October weddin !!!!!

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