Monday, January 13, 2014

One Room. One Subject. One Flash.

In one of the comments on my Quick Light Setup post, a fellow blogger Dave asked me to post about a small photography game I played with my friend and my brother. This will be the topic of this post.

So the game went like this, how many different headshot looks can we get of a single subject, just using a single flash, a single camera & lens, in a closed room with 4 white walls and a side window? We were not allowed to use any light modifiers (gels, umbrellas, grids, etc...), except only for the available props in the room.

The camera was a Canon 60D which has a wireless TTL flash commander, i.e. it can wirelessly trigger compatible flashes, in TTL mode, so the flash fires with the correct power without needing user intervention. In all of the pictures shown here, we left the flash on ETTL mode, and the camera figured out the correct flash exposure everytime, I didn't use any flash exposure compensation. The lens was my very own Canon 60mm f/2.8 Macro USM, which we selected to get a tight viewing angle, it has a full frame equivalent 96mm focal length. And the flash we used was also my very own Canon 600EX-RT which is Canon's flagship speedlite.

So, that opening picture, how do you figure it was taken? Balancing the sunset with a bit of flash on the inside? Maybe bounce the flash from the curtains? Nope, the thing is, we were shooting at night time, there was no sunlight, and the room was lit with a couple of fluorescent bulbs. So let me take you along for a ride, and show you how we did each one, and also show you some of the pictures that were taken during the experiment, even if they are not good pictures per se. Remember, we were playing a game, not shooting for a client, it is all about the number of the different looks we can get. The pictures below are sorted in the same chronological order as we took them.


In these two pictures, we used normal bounce flash, the flash was positioned on top of the camera, and bounced to the left in the first picture (broad lighting, i.e. you light the side of the face facing the camera), then to the right in the second picture (short lighting, the opposite).

As far as camera settings go, I was shooting in manual mode, I metered for the ambient light with the flash off, then underexposed by almost 1.5 stops, then turned the flash on and snapped away.


Next we cancelled the ambient (lowest ISO & fastest sync speed), and played around with direct flash pointed at the subject (with the flash removed from the camera, and triggered wirelessly from the 60D). In the first picture we pointed the flash from the camera right, but my friend put his hand up. In the second one we aimed from below to get a scary look, with the the shadow from the eye-glasses creating "evil eyebrows".


In this series, we bounced direct flash from the wall to the camera left, the slight fill on the other side came from the extra light bouncing off the other walls and the ceiling (look carefully at the hotspots on his glasses). My favorite is the last one.

In this one I can't remember what we did differently, but I think we used some paper as a sort of reflector.

This one was taken using a similar technique to the above, but the facial expression was really nice. I processed it differently adding a strong vignette, and a lot of grain.


In this one we put the flash behind the chair, and his face is lit by the bounced light. I had to pull the exposure in this image by 1.2 stops in post. The colors and the vignette are from a free preset I downloaded from the internet called "Creative Catalyst 29 LR4".


Next we wanted to get very moody images in B&W, so we used direct flash, with a piece of thick opaque paper rolled on the flash head acting as a snoot. The first picture is of someone who has a lot going through his mind and looking for a way to solve his problems. The second picture was an intermediate step during out trials to reach the last picture, which is a dark, mysterious and intriguing portrait, where the lit side of the face is not enough to tell you all about the subject. It took a few trials to get the lighting in the last picture just as we wanted, the flash is held directly above his head, and slightly to the side.


Here we used two different pieces of paper (a yellowish one, and a blue one), and we put them on the same height as the subject's torso, then bounced flash off them, giving different color casts as if he was lit by an iPad that he was reading from in a dark room. When shooting with flash and your subject is wearing eye-glasses, you have to be careful about the reflections from the glasses, however, we didn't care. :-)


This technique I learned from Joe McNally. My brother was shooting the pictures, while I took the speedlite and stood outside the window (we were at the ground floor) holding the flash as high as possible and using the widest zoom setting on the flash head. The camera triggered the flash perfectly every time despite the lack of direct line of sight, and the curtains acted as a diffuser and gave a slight warmth to the color temperature, as if it is actually sunset, I didn't modify the WB setting (6750 K) or add gels. My favorite one is the last picture.

We had a great time shooting these pictures, my friend has a few new profile pictures for facebook, we all learned a few things, and I had great material for a post. I took a look at the EXIF data, and the time it took starting from the first picture to the last one is 28 minutes, not a bad way to spend time.

I hope you've enjoyed this post.


TTL Flash FAQ by Mic Ty
TTL Flash Tutorial (10 Lessons) by Mic Ty


  1. Sounds fun. I especially like the "fake sunset" images. Nicely done.

    1. Thanks Wil, same here, my favorite is the last one, followed closely by the half shadowed face.

  2. Thanks, Mohammad. Much appreciated. I like the idea and have to say you executed it well. I'm in agreement with liking the last shot the best. It sure had me fooled into thinking, "That's really nice sunlight". But the dark, moody ones are really good too. And your mention of a snoot gives me some ideas. I'm still playing with flash and trying to learn it. Need to get back to my blog and post something. It's been too long now. The holiday's interrupted me.


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