Bringing Your Own Light - Kevin Chan

Kevin Chan

Oakville Camera Club

Why settle for boring or unflattering light? Just bring your own instead and unleash your creativity! Remote off-camera flashes are powerful and portable tools that can bring your portraits to the next level. They have provided me with the flexibility and confidence to shoot on-location portraiture in all types of challenging environments and conditions.

Getting the flash off-camera breaks photographers away from the limitations of on-axis and bounce flash. While this can be very effective, it’s not entirely conducive to creative portraits. Most Nikon and Canon cameras come with built-in infrared triggers, which are convenient and affordable. Radio triggers are an alternative that allows for greater flexibility in flash placement and orientation. Regardless of the system, being able to place flashes anywhere is advantageous big advantage.

Be dynamic in your use of flash! Speedlights are extremely portable flashes that let you adjust your light very quickly. Studio lights tend to be heavier and more cumbersome with limited flexibility. Take advantage of this mobility and try different types of light as you shoot: sidelight, backlight, fill, overhead, butterfly, or even Rembrandt. Add variety to your images by changing locations of your flashes often. Switching diffusers is another option, giving a completely different look in the same place.

The most common light modifiers for portraiture are umbrellas and softboxes. Umbrellas are easy to use and straightforward. Try shoot-through umbrellas for a softer and flattering look. Slightly different are softboxes, which give beautiful, controllable light. Being able to control light falloff and spill is a key strength of softboxes which is often underused by photographers. Consider the addition of grids or gobos to control your light even further – these are great for picky situations or tight locations.

When using light creatively, I strongly recommend to shooting in manual and setting your flashes accordingly. TTL is convenient, but lacks consistency and control. Dynamic or interesting lighting can be a delicate balance between flash and ambient light, which is easier to achieve with manual settings. Be sure to check that your triggers sync consistently with your camera at its highest sync speed. This enables you to get the most effective power out of your flashes. It can be intimidating at first, but it is well worth the learning effort.

I always encourage experimentation when learning to use flash. There is no set recipe for flash photography; it is very much a learned skill. It’s often best to start simple with flash setups that you are comfortable with. After getting a few shots, progress into more complicated or ‘untested’ setups. Be sure to not restrict yourself to always using the same types of lighting!

Being able to light effectively and creatively is an invaluable skill for portrait photographers. Practice and a bit of experimentation goes a long way in developing your flash photography abilities, regardless of skill level. Expand your options and give off-camera flash a try! Master your lighting modifiers and setups – this is the key to creating great portraits under the most challenging conditions.

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