Portable Lighting With Speedlites
I have said this about a number of previous modules, but I really loved this one! Unfortunately (or fortunately) I was not able to attend all the classes in this module, my wife and I took a week off and went to Florida for some well deserved R&R so I missed 3 classes, fortunately the ones I missed were basic instruction that I mostly already know. The teacher for this module was Matt Teuten, someone who’s work I really admire and opinions I take seriously, I’ve never met anyone who knows speedlite’s better than this guy. I’ve never met Syl Arena, Joe McNally or Dave Hobby in person, so they don’t count.
I was there for the first class, we spoke about the differences between the different modes (I’m a Canon shooter, I have a 580 EX II Speedlite) E-TTL, Multi and Manual. Examples were given, explanations for why your photos don’t come out the way you think they should, and demonstrations, of course. Matt really makes it easy to understand how these very complicated little lights work and how to get the most out of them.
The last class that I missed was a Saturday and we were supposed to be working on a shoot, but I had a wedding to photograph that day. I explained to Matt that I’d be using my speedlite extensively and he agreed that it could count as my shoot. I ended up submitting this photo for that day:
If you aren’t familiar with using a speedlite for fill flash, pay attention to this. Some people don’t understand that exposing for the couple is completely different than exposing for the background. When I was exposing for the couple, this is what happens to the background:
It gets completely blown out! The opposite is if you expose for the background the couple is too dark to see. The solution: expose for one and add light to the other. In this case, I can’t add light to the Boston skyline, so I exposed for that and added flash to get a proper exposure on Brendan and Janet (who are an AMAZING couple, by the way!). The first photo was taken using my Canon 5D Mark II with my Canon 24-70mm 2.8L USM at 1/125s at f/10, ISO 200. When using your flash on Manual (actually I think it’s any mode) it doesn’t record in the meta data what your power was set at. I believe I was somewhere around 1/8th or 1/16th power for this set of first dance photos once I switched to using my speedlite. I bounced the speedlite off the ceiling in the first photo, the deck of this ship is partially covered and that’s where we were, aiming the flash directly at them would not have resulted in the softer light that you see here.
Anyway, Matt happy with my photo because I clearly demonstrated my ability to work quickly under pressure, shooting in full manual mode (both camera and speedlite) and being able to accomplish this balancing of exposures. I’m very proud that I am able to do this work, you generally need quite a bit of practice to get it right quickly, and I’m fortunate that I have had the opportunity to photograph this wedding, but also many others where balancing the exposures is so important to the end result. Sure, at times having the background blown out is nice, but I wanted to show the city skyline since the couple opted to have their reception on the harbor cruise ship, don’t you think they’d want to be able to SEE the skyline in the photos!? That’s what I thought. This is important stuff.
Now, on to the final shoot for this class. We were tasked with using a minimum of two speedlites for our final shot, more lights would not be frowned upon. My idea for my last shot was to duplicate what I had done in the previous class, Studio Portrait Photography II, where I had to (with Steve) setup an entire portrait studio, shoot, and break down all within an hour. I was very happy with the portrait I was able to take of Steve, you will see that below my speedlite photo for comparison. I wanted to show that you can, more often than not, create the same exact photos using speedlites as you can with studio strobes. As a recap, we used Profoto studio packs and modifiers for the portrait class.
For my speedlite setup, I used three lights instead of the four (didn’t think of that until now, I duplicated with one less light!) I used previously. I used Pocket Wizards to trigger them, all three were 580 EX II’s. One was setup on the floor behind Steve on a tiny stand, it had a mini “beauty dish” modifier on it with the center disk removed, here is the progression of adding lights to get it right:
The next photo below I added a speedlite on a light stand, no modifier was used the head was bare, around shoulder height, as a kicker to create separation from the background:
The photo below I added the third and final speedlite. This was a little bit of a ghetto rig, but it worked GREAT! Matt helped me with this since we used a Profoto 3′x4′ softbox which clearly isn’t designed for a speedlite. I put a monster clamp on top of a lightstand and then put the metal holder part you would normally slip over the Profoto strobe head but instead clamped it to the stand and just rested the speedlite in the opening on top of the monster clamp. I wish I had taken a photo of this rig! I used some gaffer’s tape to secure the speedlite so it wouldn’t fall out. For this speedlite I used the built in diffuser that slides out and flips down over the light to help spread out the light and soften it even more in that big softbox. Here is the addition of the third speedlite:
It was really dark so after increasing the speedlite to full power and pulling the softbox in much closer to Steve, this is the final image I ended up with and I couldn’t be happier!
Here is a comparison of the photo from my portrait class with the strobes next to the speedlites portrait. I realize the backgrounds are different, the paper I used in the previous class was gone! I couldn’t find it anywhere! Anyway, look at the shadows, the kicker, the direction of the light, the quality of the light. If I didn’t go through all of this explaining would you be able to tell which is strobe and which is speedlite? Probably not!
So, what do you think? Are you comfortable using speedlites? Do you prefer strobes? Lets talk about it in the comments!