Sunday, October 11, 2009

Upping the ante by adding soft light to your rim light


So, you've skillfully positioned your subject to have the sun act as the rim light. That's a great way to put some drama in your shot. But there's no reason to stop there.  If you didn't use your flash for the rim light (or if you have an extra flash handy) you can use a handheld umbrella as directional fill to get a cross-lit effect.  The hard rim light (from the sun or a flash) plus the soft key light (in our case, from an umbrella) is a lighting scheme that emulates the look of a studio shot like this shot of a fireman by Joe McNally, and you can do it on the run without setting up.

In the shot above, I waited for our toddler to come into a spot where the sun was angled as rim light above and behind where I wanted to take the shot.  I had a handheld reflective umbrella-softbox (aka softbrella or umbrellabox) ready to be triggered via CLS. I shot in shutter-priority at the maximum sync speed (1/200 for the D80) to diminish the ambient and allow the light from the flash to become dominant as the key light. EXIF: f/2.8, 1/200, ISO 100.  Flash was on TTL at 0 FEC. The focus was not exact (it's a bit behind the eyes), which I tried to remedy in post processing by increasing sharpness, and increasing local contrast ("clarity" in photoshop).

In the shot below, the sun was above and behind the subject to the camera's left.  The handheld softbrella was camera right. For the exposure, I tried Neil van Niekerk's approach of using manual exposure mode, figuring that because I was underexposing the ambient anyway, then I didn't need to worry about getting exposure exactly right.  I chose 1/200 (max sync) and f/4.0 (where the lens has a higher MTF to get a sharper shot, and with a slightly greater depth of field to have more room for correct focusing).

At ISO 100, that was about 1 stop underexposed, which is fine because the flash was going to be the key light anyway.  Flash was on TTL at 0 FEC.  Although the ambient was underexposed by 1 stop, there was no need to adjust FEC.  If I had been on shutter priority, and had dialed in -1 exposure compensation, then I would have had to increase FEC by 1 stop to get the same flash exposure because with Nikon TTL, the exposure compensation setting affects the flash exposure as well.

Next time I have a similar opportunity, I would like to angle the umbrella so that its light is coming even more from the side, making the directionality of the light more apparent.