Sunday, December 1, 2013

Evening Portraits with Flash

I hope you're having a great Thanksgiving weekend.  My parents came to visit and we had dinner at a resort called Terranea in a suburb of Los Angeles.  I took a few shots, and this time I used flash.  I'll discuss the approaches I used for three scenarios: sunset, an outdoor dinner, and a fireplace.


To ensure that the colors of the sunset would be captured, I exposed for the highlights (in this case, by selecting Active D-Lighting to Extra High).  I used aperture priority with Auto ISO on.  I chose an aperture of f/2.8 to get a little more depth of field for our group shot.  The shutter speed was 1/160 (should have been 1/200, the sync speed - oh well).  With Active D-Lighting on Extra High, the D600 would make sure that all relevant highlights would be preserved.

Because I exposed for the highlights, the subjects and foreground would be seriously underexposed:

Moreover, to bring out the colors of the sky, I needed to bring down the exposure which would further underexpose the subjects and foreground.  In the all-ambient shot above, that's what I did (-1.91 EV), then I just maxed out the shadow slider in Lightroom:

Unfortunately a large part of the sky is blown out.  I guess the ISO was too high (ISO 2000) which reduced the dynamic range and clipped some highlights. The perils of Auto ISO...

For the next shot I used flash, to bring up the exposure of the subjects and foreground.  I bounced to a wall about 15 feet behind me using my SB-800.  I would have preferred to bounce to camera left or right which would make more sense based on the direction of the sun, but there were no bounce surfaces there.  (There was a window to camera right, but that would have just looked like the direct light of the flash rather than bounced flash.)

With respect to exposure, aperture was still f/2.8, shutter still 1/160.  This time the ISO was 800. Perhaps the camera figured that because I was using flash, it didn't need to use such a high ISO to maintain shadow detail  (actually, because of the D600's excellent shadow recovery, I could have used ISO 800 in the previous shot and still retained all the shadow detail while also maintaining highlight detail).  Here was the result.

Much too bright, but all the highlight and shadow detail is there.  In post, I decreased the exposure to bring out the color of the sunset.  The flash was too white, so I warmed up the color temperature to make it look more like the light of sunset.

I used a similar approach in the next two shots, although this time I decreased the exposure by -0.7 EV and the flash by -1.3 FEC, and -2.3 FEC in the second shot:

BTW my wife went back to school, so I don't have time for Brazilian Jiu-jitsu anymore, that's why my belly came back. :(


We had dinner at an outdoor patio of the restaurant.  With the f/1.4 aperture of the Sigma 35, there was actually no need for flash even in the dim light.

Marcus Tyson.  f/1.4, 1/160, ISO 6400.
f/1.4, 1/160, ISO 8063
Nonetheless I was curious to see if I would be able to use flash.  I sat across my mom, and behind her was the only wall I could bounce off from, which would not have illuminated her face.

Here, I bounced to the tree behind me.  Surprisingly I got ample light:
f/1.4, 1/160, ISO 400 +1.3EV
Check out the window which shows the flash bouncing from the tree.  The bounced light was greenish but could be adjusted in post.  I also had to adjust the exposure by 1.3EV but the result was quite usable.

There were also heaters beside the table, and I also tried bouncing from the upper part of a heater to camera left:
f/1.4, 1/160, ISO 400 +3EV
I got much less light this time, needing +3EV in post, but the flash definitely contributed light.  Here is an all-ambient shot for comparison:
f/1.4, 1/160, ISO 2800 +3EV
I'm not suggesting you use flash for the sake of using flash. But it's good to know you have that option even in unlikely places.  At the same time, we should be aware of situations when all-ambient is just fine.


After dinner, we took some shots beside some outdoor fireplaces.  For this next shot, I used manual exposure.

I set the aperture at f/2.8 for depth of field. If I had been using a longer lens I probably would use a narrower aperture but at 35mm focal length, at a full body distance from the subjects, and at laptop viewing sizes, f/2.8 was adequate.  I set the shutter speed at 1/125. Slower than that could result in blur if the subjects are illuminated with a mix of ambient and flash.  I turned off Auto ISO then adjusted it until the ambient was just slightly underexposed (-0.3 or -0.7). I set it to 1100 ISO.  I bounced the flash off a wall about 20 feet above and behind, on camera right.  Because I didn't want the flash to look too conspicuous, I reduced it by -2 FEC.  I used the D600 self-timer to fire off 9 shots.  On some shots, the SB-800 could not recycle fast enough, so in the next shots I increased the ISO to 3200.

In post, I increased the exposure +0.6 EV (+0.48 EV in the latter shot), and I warmed up the cold light of the flash to make it look like firelight.

I used the same approach and settings for the following shot.

This time I bounced on a wall about 20 ft. above, about 10 ft. behind me, camera left.  Note that dark "shadow" above the fireplace is soot, not a shadow. :)

That's pretty much all there is to it.  Thanks for dropping by and Happy Thanksgiving from our family to yours.