flash

Playing with flash controls

Recently, I've been playing with 2nd shutter sync. This simply means the camera flashes at the end of an exposure instead of at the beginning. This lends itself perfectly for capturing motion on longer exposures then effectively freezing the subject at its last position.

A few weeks ago I entered an ICAEW student photo competition:

Contest Instructions
Unleash your creativity. Is accountancy just something you do for a job or does it mean more than that? What images, objects, places or people does accountancy evoke?

I decided to use this technique to make it look like I was writing quickly while working on a set of accounts. Unfortunately I didn't win, I lost to a (admittedly well shot) picture of three meerkats titled Safety in Numbers. Regardless, I'm pleased with my entry:

While out of the country, relaxing in Spain, I continued my experimentation with 2nd shutter sync. This time instead of capturing the final position of a movement as above I tried something a little different...

Playing in Spain

I've seen loads of photos taken where people use a light and a long exposure to create patterns or words in the image. I've even done it myself:

Photo taken as part of the marketing for The Queen's College (Oxford) Commemoration Ball 2010

Another marketing photo for Queens 2010, awarded "highly commended" at an OUPS Photo competition

The problem with these photos is you don't see who is behind the pattern or the text. In Spain, I combined this interesting type of photo with the 2nd shutter sync to capture the people behind the photo, in the same exposure. Obviously this can be done with photoshop and I have compared the final result for the two methods below.

 

All of the following are single exposure images.

Due the limited creativity of those involved (myself included) there were no interesting pictures, only names and usernames to be seen, but at least everyone could introduce them in their own way! Apart from the Bez image (which has had the light colour altered) they have only had very basic adjustments made, such as brightness and colour balance etc

 

These look like they could have been made using composite imagery. As promised, I tried that too:

4 piece composite image

This is made up of 4 images. Due to the significantly shorter exposure times the body is more clearly visible in the four sections, "person", "Jake", "#" and "11". While there are benefits to creating the image in this way (such as easy retakes of particular sections), the finished product feels less authentic.

 

Playing With Light 2

Following on from Playing With Light 1, I decided to take more pictures to highlight the difference playing with part 2 and 3 makes to your photos.

Changing the background of the picture

The addition of pink paper behind the subject cleans up the background

The background to this photo wasn't particularly messy to begin with, a range of greys and blacks. The addition of the pink paper makes the scene feel more isolated.

 
Lighting Comparison badgers

Badger Scene

The badger scene is a good example of how different types of flash effect the final photo. In natural light, the photo feels a little washed out as the camera increased exposure to reveal the darker areas (this clearly could be corrected by flicking onto manual). The shadows help to show the shapes of the badgers.

With the camera flash you lose a lot of the natural shadows that helped show the shapes and sizes of the objects. At the same time you are gaining dark shadows directly behind the objects which I find reduces the contrast with the background.

Finally, the off camera flash also removes the natural shadows but creates equally helpful new ones which help show the sizes/shapes of objects. The flash throws enough new light on the scene that the camera exposure is reduced allowing for easier handheld shots and more vivid colours.

 
Lighting Comparison flies

Dead Fly

This fly example simply reinforces the points I've just made. Natural light has good shadows but lacks pop. The camera flash has plenty of contrast and good colours but the new shadows on the background make the edges harder to see. The external flash is clear and has the benefit of a new dramatic shadow thanks to the light coming from a low angle.

 

Below are a few of the final images from my mini, playing with light, photo sessions (on Flickr):

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Playing With Light 1

Photography is all about catching light (literally) and yet I have never played about with lighting in any depth before. I've played with every setting on all my cameras but that is only part of the story.

In my opinion, there are three parts to taking pictures:

  1. The light before the subject
  2. The subject
  3. The light after the subject (to the camera)

So with a typical outdoor photo that might include:

  1. Light from the sun
  2. Hits a landscape/person and is reflected
  3. Position the camera to catch the light 

Where am I going with this?

I think when anyone takes a picture they are playing with part 3. By playing with camera settings etc you enable yourself to capture the light more effectively.

Interacting with the subject before taking the picture is playing with part 2. This might consist of telling someone to smile or describing a precise pose. Alternatively, it might be cleaning/moving something to get a better photo. So part 2 again isn't necessarily demanding.

If you are outside you would normally use the sun to light up your subject or if it's dark/inside you may use flash. Since getting an external flash for my DSLR I have been able to tinker with part 1 by bouncing light off the ceiling/walls onto the subject. Compare this to a photo studio where there are carefully positioned lights everywhere! Playing with part 1 is a great way to change the look/feel of photos.

Mini comparison of flash lighting

comparison between different flash types

The photo is of a peacock feather with sunlight coming from the near right. The picture without flash lacks contrast due to the bright background and lack of shadows.

The camera flash and external flash with diffuser look best as they have added enough shadow for increased contrast and enhanced colour. The external flash is raised from the camera lens which makes the light non-centred, noticeable without the diffuser at this short range.

Although bouncing the flash off the ceiling or wall normally adds improved shadows, this is not always ideal especially due to the feather leaning forward casting itself in shadow!

The bottom right image (where the flash is not attached to the camera) adds a strong light from the bottom left which completely changes the look of the photo. Although in this case it adds too much shadowing,  it does change the colours from all the other examples.

The following photos were taken with the same off camera flash position:

 

The major benefit I noticed with the off camera flash is that I can get close to the subject without the light changing or casting my own shadow onto it (often the case with sun lit macro shots). The major downside is that I kept blinding myself with the flash... #amateur.