Monday, June 13, 2011

Backlight vs. Rim Light


Since I didn't get to take any truly interesting or challenging photos over the weekend, I decided to re-take the low-key self-portrait that I did recently.

That photo looked ok to me, but thought it could be improved with better separation between subject and background:

In that previous photo, my strategy for subject-background separation was to use rim light.  I had an SB-800 on a light stand behind me and off to the side.  It worked well enough for separation on the camera left side but didn't do much for the camera right side or the top of my hair.

This time I used an SB-800 directly behind me.  Usually I don't do this unless the subject has frizzy or wispy hair.  It turned out that it also worked for my spiky hair, and provided a very thin separation light, which is what I wanted.

Here's what the setup looked like:
- Key light was an Alien Bees B1600 firing through a 48-inch EZ-Pro octagon softbox with grid camera left on a Linco #8310 light stand.  Triggered with Radiopopper JrX Studio.
- An SB-800 in SU-4 (optical slave) mode was behind me as the aforementioned separation light.  It was mounted on a LumoPro 5-section compact light stand.
- An SB-800 in SU-4 mode was ball-bungeed to the light stand to fire at a Lastolite tri-grip reflector below me, to provide just a touch of fill.
- Camera was a Nikon D70, with a Sigma 50-150 lens.  It was mounted on a Targus TG-P60T tripod with Opteka TS-1 ballhead.
(The light above the camera is just a security light and did not contribute to the exposure).

Other notes:
  • I had a bit of a scare with the Alien Bee.  When I first turned it on, the ready light wouldn't turn green.  The modeling light wouldn't turn on either.  It turns out that it was because I had a Radiopopper JrX plugged into the Alien Bee and had not inserted a dummy plug into the sync port.
  • I found out that on the D70, I can't mix the Radiopopper JrX with the Nikon Advanced Wireless Lighting.  The Radiopopper would fire but it wouldn't fire in sync with the shutter.
  • I'm getting faster at setting up the octagon softbox.  It used to take me 15 minutes or so.  Now it takes me about 5 minutes (including the grid) using a couple of shortcuts.  Will post my shortcuts when I post the review of the octagon softbox.
  • I found the infrared remote of the D70 quite frustrating, not just because it was sometimes unresponsive but because I also had to switch the camera mode to remote.  (Note: my infrared remote is only a generic eBay version.)  Fortunately, I found a remote shutter cable for the D70 that can be used with the Meike MK-RC7 radio flash/shutter trigger.
  • In an effort to resolve the Alien Bee issue, I reset the camera's settings, and forgot to reactivate the raw+JPEG mode.  Instead all the shots were taken in JPEG.  Fortunately, I only needed minimal post-processing. :)


  1. I wonder how you were able to fire the JrX (even though it did not sync). The D70 does not have a PC sync port. Did you use a hot shoe adapter? If you did then what was you commander? Popup flash since you did not attach a SB800 to the camera?

    I am looking for a similar solution myself, with D90 popup and hot shoe adapter to use AWL and JrX.

  2. Hi. I attempted to mix awl with the radiopopper using the pc sync on an on-camera sb-800 acting as commander.

  3. Thanks a lot. Between information here and CLS Practical Guide blog I learnt quite a lot about TTL lighting which I have been putting off for long time. I agree on mixing TTL and manual flash as the situation demands.


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