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Photoflex Lighting School

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Techniques for Softer Fill Flash

Lighting Equipment

When shooting portraits outdoors, it's often necessary to control or modify the natural light in order to achieve the most flattering results. In a high contrast, outdoor lighting situation, many photographers resort to using fill flash to reduce contrast and bring detail into the shadow areas.

The main challenge of this method is to make the small, on-camera flash seem less artificial by using appropriate light modification tools. The following tutorial will demonstrate how to use the Photoflex Extra Small LiteDome Kit and the Small LiteDome Kit to achieve soft, flattering fill light in an outdoor setting.

(Click on any thumbnail image below for an enlarged view.)

Topics Covered:

  •     Compromising with High Contrast Light
  •     Using an On-Camera Flash as a Fill Light
  •     Using the Extra Small Wireless Trigger & Flash Kit
  •     Increasing Versatility with the Small LiteDome Kit
  •     Experimenting with Side Lighting

Having scouted a nice beach setting for our portrait, our first step was to take a few shots without any flash. We positioned our model, Chris, so that the sun would be mostly behind him, but slightly off to the right. This way the sun would act as a rim light on the right side of the Chris' head and shoulders, leaving most of his face in shadow. [figure 1]

Figure 1

Compromising with High Contrast Light

In this situation, the camera is not able to record adequate detail in both the brightly lit background and in the shadows. This is because the dynamic range of any camera (film or digital) is much smaller than the dynamic range of the human eye, which can instantly adjust to huge differences in brightness. As you can see in the examples below, we can use exposure to either record detail in the face, leaving the background completely overexposed, or we can expose for the background, thereby underexposing the face. [figures 2 & 3]

Figure 2

Figure 3

Using an On-Camera Flash as a Fill Light

In order to achieve accurate exposure in both the background and face, we decided to expose for the background and use a shoe-mount flash to add light to the face. This technique is called "fill flash."

Fill flash is a great way to add that extra bit of light into the shadows and it's especially useful for portraits. The disadvantage of using flash this way is that the small, shoe-mount flash attached to the camera gives a relatively harsh quality of light. Also, because the flash is positioned so close to the lens, the light can seem very flat and artificial, which is not the best type of light for a portrait. [figure 5]

Figure 4

Figure 5

One way to position the flash further from the lens is to use a flash bracket and a TTL dedicated sync cord. However, this alone will not make the light from the flash any softer. To soften the light some form of diffusion must be used.

Using the Extra Small Wireless & Flash Kit

The Photoflex Extra Small Wireless & Flash Kit is the perfect solution. Not only does it come with the Extra Small LiteDome, it also comes equipped with Photeflex's new StarFire Flash and FlashFire wireless trigger. Moreover, this kit is small enough to be used with almost any flash bracket on the market and assembling the Extra Small LiteDome is a simple process. We recommend assembling the parts in the following order. Remember that the kit does not include the camera bracket or the camera.

Start by taking out the Adjustable ShoeMount Hardware with two shoe mounts. This Hardware allows you to attach the Extra Small LiteDome SoftBox, StarFire Flash, FlashFire Wireless Trigger and fasten all this to either your camera bracket or a LiteStand. [figure 6]

Figure 6

First, attach the Extra Small LiteDome to the basic connector by inserting the metal rods one at a time into each corner. [figure 7]

Figure 7

Then, attach the shoe-mount hardware provided with the kit to the top of your flash bracket. For our bracket we needed to use a screwdriver to attach the hardware. [figure 8]

Figure 8

Then, attach the LiteDome to the shoe-mount hardware. [figure 9]

Figure 9

With the LiteDome attached securely to the flash bracket using the ShoeMount hardware, the next step is to attach the StarFire Flash and FlashFire Wireless Trigger to the shoe-mount hardware. Then attach the rear flap to the back of the XS LiteDome to prevent light from spilling out the back of the soft box. [figures 10 & 11]

Figure 10

Figure 11

The complete set-up including camera, flash bracket, StarFire Flash, FlashFire, Extra Small LiteDome, and ShoeMount hardware will look something like this. [figure 12]

Figure 12

With our LiteDome, flash bracket, and StarFire Flash ready to go, we proceeded to take another picture of our subject, Chris. [figures 13]

Figure 13

As you can see, the result was a dramatic improvement over the previous shot using a flash on the camera without any diffusion. The Extra Small LiteDome worked wonders to diffuse the light from the shoe-mount flash. Diffusing the flash helped to reduce the contrast of the flash, which helped to balance the quality of light produced by the flash with the naturally lit background. [figure 14]

Figure 14

Below is a side-by-side comparison of all the results presented in this tutorial so far. [figure 15]

Figure 15

As your can see from the examples shown so far, the Photoflex Extra Small Wireless Trigger & Flash Kit is easy to set up, very portable, and is able to dramatically improve the quality of light of any shoe-mount flash. For these reasons, the Extra Small LiteDome is a favorite among portrait and wedding photographers who demand a high quality light source that is able to perform in a fast-paced shooting situation.

Increasing Versatility With The Small LiteDome Kit

Of course, if shooting fast and always being on the move is not a priority, then the Photoflex Small LiteDome Kit is another product worthy of consideration for any one who shoots portraits on location. As we will demonstrate in the following steps, the main advantage of the Small LiteDome is its larger size, which offers an even softer light. Remember that the larger the light source, the softer the light.

Just like the Extra Small LiteDome Kit, the Small LiteDome Kit was designed to accommodate a shoe-mount flash. It includes the same shoe-mount hardware as well as an accessory swivel, which allows the entire setup to be mounted onto any standard light stand. A Photoflex Medium LiteStand is also included in this kit.

The first step to assemble the Small LiteDome Kit is to set up the small LiteDome using the standard, white connector. [figure 16]

Figure 16

Next, attach the shoe-mount hardware to the connector as shown. [figure 17]

Figure 17

Then attach the brass stud and swivel to one of the three mounting positions on the shoe-mount hardware. [figure 18]

Figure 18

With the shoe-mount hardware and swivel securely fastened to the connector, the next step is to mount the entire set-up to the light stand. Then attach the StarFire flash and FlashFire Wireless Trigger to the shoe-mount hardware on the back of the LiteDome. [figure 19 & 20]

Figure 19

Figure 20

With our Small LiteDome Kit ready to go, we were ready to take the next shot for this demonstration. For this shot, the LiteDome was positioned just to the left of the camera and raised slightly above the model's head, pointing downward. [figure 21]

Figure 21

The result [figure 22] is a beautifully diffused quality of light on the model's face, which blends seamlessly with the natural daylight that lights the background.

Figure 22

Experimenting with Side Lighting

Having the flash and soft box on a light stand meant that our fill light could now be positioned independently of the camera. For the next and final shot, we decided to experiment by placing the light at a steep angle to the right of the model. [figure 23]

Figure 23

The result is a dramatic departure from a traditional fill flash positioned directly in front of the subject. This image is a much more dramatic lighting style, which is often more flattering for men. [figure 24]

Figure 24

The images shown below offer a quick recap of the three major lighting set-ups demonstrated in this tutorial. [figure 25]

Figure 25

Using fill flash outdoors is one of the most popular and most misunderstood techniques in portrait photography. Many photographers know that an on-camera flash can be used to brighten the shadow areas of a naturally lit subject, but many fail to learn how this artificial light source can be modified to achieve a more flattering look.

As you can see from the results in this lesson, the Photoflex Extra Small Wireless Trigger & Flash Kit and Small LiteDome Kit are two of the best tools on the market for going portable.

Lighting Equipment

Comments

On August 30, 2012 at 11:35 PM, D J Millar said:

A really helpful tute, thanks.  I’ll be a regular, ther’s a lot tolearn here.

Thank you
Derek

On January 19, 2013 at 10:39 AM, chris said:

Hey, its me. smile

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