One of the biggest factors that gets overlooked by portrait photographers is the quality of light they work with. For many, the main objective is to simply illuminate their subjects with a flash of light (typically provided by a built-in or shoe mount flash) and to make sure their camera is configured to properly expose the shot.
The problem, of course, is that this type of light is not natural (unless you think pointing a flashlight in someone’s eyes is natural), and because of this, the quality of the photograph becomes compromised.
That said, portrait light does not need to be complicated to look natural. In fact, simplifying your lighting often leads to a much more natural effect, and natural looking light is key to achieving images that are believable and powerful. This lesson examines the use and benefit of a single Small LiteDome Kit in an interior portrait.
- Have Gear, Will Travel
- Starting with a Rim Light
- Using a Shoe Mount Flash as Fill
- Diffusing the Shoe Mount Flash
- Sync Options
- Connecting a Wireless Receiver
- Connecting the Shoe Mount Flash via a Cable
- Moving Your Shoe Mount Flash Off-Camera
Have Gear, Will Travel
Many people are often surprised to find out just how compact lighting equipment can become for transport. As you can see, when the kit we used for this lesson is broken down, it doesn’t take up a lot of space. [figure 1]
These products were designed with transport in mind, and fit in most of our carry cases, which are sold separately.
Starting with a Rim Light
For this lesson, we decided to create a simple interior portrait with a single window serving as a rim light. Using a natural light source for a rim light is a common alternative to an additional light setup, and can provide a nice background element.
With no flash activated, we took a shot to see how this light would look on our subject.
As expected the light from the window created a nice rim light around our subject, but failed to illuminate the front of our subject, who of course was facing away from the window.
Using a Shoe Mount Flash as Fill
To remedy the low light issue, we decided to do what many photographers do: attach a shoe mount flash to fill in the shadows on the subject.
Once the flash was powered up, we took another shot.
As you can see, the flash worked well to illuminate the front of our subject, but produced a quality of light that is very different from that of the window light. Whereas the indirect window light provides a soft quality to the edges of our subject and to the window itself, the light from the flash creates a relatively hard, sharp-edged light. Notice the sharpness of the shadow cast from the jaw line, and to a lesser degree, the nose.
Also notice the shadow of our subject’s head on the back wall. While it’s not overly distracting here, it can become a bigger issue when your subject is positioned closer to a background surface.
Diffusing the Shoe Mount Flash
To soften the harshness of the shoe-mount flash, we decided to attach a small LiteDome® kit to it. If you’re going to shoot with a softbox attached to the camera, you’ll need to make some extra room. A camera bracket and some basic hardware is a common solution to create the space needed between the softbox and the camera lens. Here’s one way to set it up:
First, attach your camera to a camera bracket. Here we used a simple bracket with a telescopic riser. [figure 6]
Once the camera is securely mounted to the bracket, attach a Photoflex® Shoe Mount MultiClamp (included in the kit) to the riser on the bracket.
Next, set up the softbox from the kit using the included Basic Connector. Make sure the soft box is oriented the way you want it (either vertical or horizontal) with the threaded side of the connector facing down.
Next, take the Adjustable Shoe Mount Hardware (AC-B222SM), also included in the kit, and attach it to the Basic Connector. As you can see in the photos below, there is a small fixed post in the hardware that slides into the connector when the two are attached, preventing unwanted rotation.
Next, screw the small brass stud from the Shoe Mount MultiClamp into the bottom of the Adjustable Shoe Mount Hardware (tighten with pliers if necessary) and mount the stud into the Shoe Mount MultiClamp.
At this point, you have a few options on how to connect your shoe mount flash, depending upon the type of equipment you’re using:
1. You can mount a wireless receiver to the other cold shoe of the Adjustable Shoe Mount Hardware and attach a sync wire to your shoe mount flash if your flash accepts one.
2. If your flash has wireless flash transmission capability and it can sync with your camera, you can set it up this way and remove the second cold shoe if you want.
3. You can attach one end of a shoe mount sync cable to one of the cold shoes on the hardware, and the other end of the cable to the hot shoe of your camera.
We’ll first examine option 1 and then option 3.
Connecting a Wireless Receiver
If you’re using a wireless transmitter and receiver, the second cold shoe of your AC-B222SM hardware can be utilized. Once the hardware is connected to the softbox, mount your shoe mount flash to the first cold shoe of the hardware.
Next, attach your wireless receiver to the second cold shoe and mount it on the hardware. Once the receiver is secure, you can sync it to the flash by way of a short cable. Here, we used a PC to Mini Plug cable.
With the shoe mount transmitter attached to the camera, you are now able to trip the shoe mount flash remotely. Here’s our setup with the flash going off.
Connecting the Shoe Mount Flash via a Cable
Next, we decided to remove the secondary cold shoe from the bracket, since we wouldn’t be using the wireless receiver in this next setup, and attached the shoe mount flash end of the cable onto the primary cold shoe.
Once this cable was securely mounted, we attached the shoe mount flash to the hot shoe of the cable.
We then took the other end of the hot shoe cable and mounted it to the hot shoe of the camera.
And with that, our setup was complete. We powered on the camera, then the flash and set the flash mode to TTL (“through-the-lens” metering).
NOTE: When shooting with a setup like this, it’s best to either set the focal length manually beforehand or set the focus mode to Auto, as manually adjusting your focus with your left hand holding the camera bracket can be all but impossible.
Once everything was synced up, we took another shot from the same vantage point.
Look at the difference in the quality of light now. The shadows cast from the jaw line are much softer and more natural-looking than with the shoe mount flash alone and there is no longer a shadow cast from the subject’s head on the back wall. The subject’s features also have a significantly more three-dimensional feel to them.
As you can see, this small softbox made a world of difference both in the quality of light illuminating our subject and in tying in with the light from the window.
Check out the differences in light quality below in this cropped, side-by-side comparison.
Moving Your Shoe Mount Flash Off-Camera
When you’re shooting with a camera bracket, you’re fairly limited with where you can position your light. With this kit, however, you do not have to be tethered to the light and can place it wherever you think would be best served.
Next, we decided to do away with the camera bracket and mount the light on the LiteStand included with the kit. We first removed the shoe mount flash and cable from the Adjustable Shoe Mount Hardware. [figure 25]
Next, we attached the shoe mount flash to the cold shoe. Since we wanted maximum freedom with our light placement in this next setup, we decided to go the route of the wireless flash transmission.
NOTE: If you were to instead set up a wireless transmitter and receiver, you’d simply reattach the second cold shoe (if you removed it earlier) to the hardware and mount the wireless receiver.
When we re-attached the shoe mount flash back to the hardware, we realized that the flash was now somewhat lower pointing into the box than it was with the shoe mount cable in place. Fortunately, the Adjustable Shoe Mount Hardware has a height adjustment knob that will allow you to center your flash directly in the center of the soft box opening. Here, we made this adjustment.
Finally, we loosened the knob on the bottom of the Adjustable Shoe Mount Multiclamp, removed the light setup from the camera bracket and mounted in onto the LiteStand from the kit.
We then set the light off to the left of our subject and set up the camera so that it would wirelessly trigger the shoe mount flash.
NOTE: In situations like this, you may need to set the power mode of the flash to Manual and dial in the exact amount of light you want for your subject.
Once everything was dialed in, we took our final shot.
With our diffused shoe mount flash now off to the side, we were able to render our subject’s features even more fully. Notice how there is ample, natural-looking light in every part of the frame, but that there are also soft shadow areas that help accentuate and bring out the three-dimensional shape of our subject’s face.
As you can see, this simple lighting kit can not only transform the quality of light in your portrait work, but elevate it as well. Remember to experiment with your lighting equipment and techniques, and above all, have fun in the process!
How Our Products Work,