Monday, December 1, 2008

More Flash Gadgets


Flash photography can be difficult and photographers seem to be always seeking magical gadgets to solve flash problems. I’m at least as guilty as anyone (see previous posting on Flash with Gadgets) and recently acquired a few new gadgets. Above L-R front are Lumiquest Mini-Softbox, Lumiquest Snoot, a Sto-Fen diffuser on top of a red gel and a Lumiquest Softbox III. Across the back row are a Lumiquest Pocket Bouncer fixed to a Nikon SB-28 with Cactus wireless trigger, the Cactus transmitter and a Honl Grid. Surely one of these gadgets will help me!

I decided on a simple setup to get a feeling for the relative effects of these gadgets: a model in front of a plain backdrop (white wall) in a large studio (garage) using each gadget individually. I’m not saying that I used each gadget optimally or even as recommended; I just wanted to practice and see what would happen with each one.

Instead of my previous models, I selected Hannah this time even though she is known to be independent and undisciplined. (Hannah has been put in “time out” by my granddaughter on several occasions.) Fortunately, except for needing help from duct tape (which I understand is not exactly unfamiliar to models), Hannah did well. She was patient and quiet – unlike Elmo who tends to speak out.

Hannah was placed six feet in front of a white wall and the camera another six feet in front of Hannah. The flash stand was placed six feet from Hannah and roughly two feet to the right of the camera. The flash (Vivitar 285HV with ¼ CTO gel) was about a foot above Hannah’s eyes and, initially, pointed right at Hannah. The camera, my G9 fitted with Cactus transmitter and tripod mounted, was roughly the same height as Hannah’s eyes – perhaps half a foot higher. The studio lighting was dimmed (closed the garage door) so that the effects of flash and gadgets would not be masked by the ambient light.

I dialed in the estimated (taking a guess) exposure in manual mode: 1/250 sec, f4.5, ISO 80, Vivitar at ¼ power, focused using the small Flexizone frame and switched to manual focus so that all photos would be the same. Setting Custom Mode 1 assured that those settings would be easily recovered if necessary. Time for the test shots.

Of course, that first shot was way over exposed. I fiddled with the aperture and tried a few more shots before settling on f6.3. I then reset Custom Mode 1 and, apparently, “adjusted” the manual focus setting such that nearly every shot taken is slightly out of focus. Experience is remembering that you’ve made the same mistake previously!

The images above offer a relative comparison of direct flash and the various gadgets. The idea was to place the gadgets on the Vivitar and take shots without any adjustment. But of course, exposure had to be adjusted in each case. The Vivitar had to be cranked to full power and the aperture opened to f4.5 for the softboxes. The snoot and grid shots were taken at ¼ power and f5.6.

The two softboxes seemed to change the color a bit but the effect was pleasing – in my view anyway. All the same, next time I won’t add a ¼ CTO gel for the “warming” effect. The snoot is a bit hotter than I thought it would be. The grid produces a harsher shadow than I expected. I liked the large Softbox III but the Mini-Softbox produces nearly the same effect and fits into my kit (well, just barely now – I need a larger bag!).

Everyone knows – or should know – about using bounce flash. The above three shots were taken with variations of bounce flash. The first shot was made by simply pointing the Vivitar 285 nearly straight up at the 12 foot ceiling height; however, the flash power had to be increased from ¼ to full power, the ISO changed to 200 instead of 80 and the aperture opened to f5.6 instead of f6.3. With the change to bounce flash, the harsh shadow of direct flash has completely disappeared; however, Hannah’s face needs a bit more light. For the middle picture, I held a white box behind the flash to reflect light forward; notice that a small shadow also appears. The Pocket Bouncer causes an even more distinct shadow and requires about the same amount of flash power and aperture.

Although my G9 was set for RAW + JPEG, I couldn’t resist tweaking the selected shots from RAW. All were processed in Adobe Camera RAW 5.2 using “Flash” as the white balance and auto exposure adjustments. Yes, some of my exposures were off a bit.

My conclusions? Well, I’ll tinker a bit more and report. The soft boxes, snoot and grid aren’t really meant for main, direct light. I’d already concluded to only use the Pocket Bouncer outside or with very high ceilings. I just needed to play -- ah, practice .

(The individual portrait of Hanna was made using a red gel inside a Stofen diffuser fitted to a flash pointed at the wall. The main flash was bounced at ½ power and the large softbox was placed on a flash at 1/16 power about two feet from Hanna. She seems to like it -- hasn’t complained anyway.)

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