Shaping Light: A Small Flash Workshop


Nikon D300, 85mm f/1.4; 1/250 @ f/8, ISO 200 SB-800 in softbox right, unknown flash in Lastolite something-or-other for rim light back right. Model: Leah.

A couple of weeks back, I spent a Saturday morning with Erik Valind who was in town presenting a workshop sponsored by National Camera Exchange and hosted at the Minneapolis Photo Center. It was an opportunity to work with a professional who supervised two shooting sessions flanked by plenty of lecture, examples, and insights.

I had run into Erik's class on Kelby training and found it pretty helpful. Erik is a professional working out of NYC principally focused on Life Style photography. Or as he put it, "outside shooting. Anything to be outside." For the shooting sessions, Erik set up three stations ... first session with a single light source. The station I worked in was a speedlight in 30" softbox. We were all told to set our cameras to 1/250 @ f/8. Models were provided and each station also came equipped with some kind of reflector. We were instructed to share a pocket wizard and rotate through the queue so that everyone (ten at each station) had an opportunity to work with the equipment and the model.

Nikon D300, 85mm f/1.4; 1/250 @ f/8, ISO 200 SB-800 in softbox left. Model: Janna.

I chose to man the reflector for everyone until it was my turn to shoot. I appreciated Erik's instruction concerning the models ... "say Hi! get to know them, introduce yourself." So, with manning the reflector for everyone, I was able to strike a conversation with Janna (one of the willing model participants) and overhear everyone else stumble through their banter. I learned a lot from that especially what not to say. You can't force a conversation. You have to take them seriously showing some genuine interest so they return the favor. Holding the reflector for others I was able to carry on a good enough conversation with Janna that when we shot together she seemed pretty comfortable and willing to follow my direction.

Nikon D300, 85mm f/1.4; 1/250 @ f/8, ISO 200 SB-800 in softbox right, unknown flash in Lastolite something-or-other for rim light back right. Model: Leah.

The second shooting session involved the addition of a rim light and a change in models. Leah was naturally gregarious but in some ways too interested in doing the model shit that most people expected. She was good at it. What I tried to accomplish with Leah was to get her to be her. After a few misfires she started to come around and have some fun. It helped that the guy holding the reflector for me was willing to engage and I could get her to play off him as well.

You don't really get a lot of time to work with the models. The main objective is to work with the equipment (everyone from the same starting point) move around a little, play with the ambient light, move the reflector closer, further back, drop the reflector altogether. Mostly look at how the light, the angles, proximity, and reflection work. Try for the smooth soft light that's appropriate for the subject and embraces them.

Here are my takeaways from lecture and shooting sessions

  • We talked a lot about the quality of light and achieving smooth transitions from light to dark. That's where the reflectors came in. They help lift the shadows on the dark side of the subject.
  • Ya gotta dig Pocketwizards. We were using the PlusX 10 channel, hundred dollar jobbies. They were nice and easy to use.
  • Rapport with the subject is key. I like to shoot portraits and want to capture the character and persona as much as possible. I'm not interested in who they might think they are or who they might think they should emulate.
  • I've got a lot of work to do ... most of it is just finding that one thing that I can repeat that helps define my photography.

To wrap up, it was a good session. A lot of the lecture I'd heard before but that makes it easier to remember. Now I can add Erik to those little voices in the back of my mind. It was nice having models to work with albeit a short time. I was lucky to get the time I did and think I was able to take advantage of all of it. Nice job Mr. Valind.


Matt & Tasha

one of many

Nikon D300, 18-70mm f/3.5-4.5; 18mm, 1/6 @ f/4, ISO 1000 SB-800 w/black foamie thing

Contrary to the lack of activity on my blog, I have been busy this summer. I upgraded my camera to a Nikon D300 and got a chance to take it out for a run in September at my nephew's wedding. I was able to act as sort of a third shooter and made sure I stayed out of the hired photog's way. Besides, they knew what they were doing and as far as I could tell covered the wedding admirably. I enjoyed getting some shots from the periphery and they had some nice setups. Every once in a while there'd be a gap in the shooting schedule and I got to grab the attention of wedding subjects.

Above is a shot I got at the reception. I was using one of those little black foamie things that Neil van Niekirk professes in his blog, books and seminars. So, most of the time the flash was pointer back over my head and directed to the ceiling using TTL. I'm sold on that technique. I'm not real good at it but I got some nice shots using it and can definitely see its advantages.

The ceremony was in a beautiful tree-covered clearing at a park in West Des Moines. The light was great if not a little green so I spent some time customizing the white-balance in post. It was a beautiful late summer day and think I got some nice shots.

bride & groom
Nikon D300, 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6; 300mm 1/80 @ f/5.6, ISO 800

Nikon D300, 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6; 75mm 1/200 @ f/5.6, ISO 800

Nikon D300, 50mm f/1.8; 1/250 @ f/5.6, ISO 400

The lowdown on the D300 ... I really appreciate being able to crank up the ISO when needed. Yes, I got some noise but a lot less than the D200 gave me and nothing that can't be dealt with in post. It was a good day and a nice introduction to the D300.