Not counting infrared imaging, light is a necessary component of photography. We need light to define the three dimensional world we live in. The more we can emphasize the depth and textures that surround us, the more impact our photographic images will have. That is why a landscape photograph when taken at high noon is flat light and quite boring but the image taken when the evening light throws long shadows across farmer’s fields is almost magical. It is important to observe the quality and direction of the light before you ever pick up the camera to capture the scene. The meter in your camera will try to set the exposure properly but it can’t detect composition or the quality of light relative to the mood that you want to record.
While you have to be patient waiting for the right light for that landscape masterpiece, portrait photography offers you the ability to create dramatic lighting any time. The same rules apply for a three dimensional image, though, with side lighting to enhance the texture and modeling on the subject. Portraits in general become more powerful when you can create an image of a person that looks very three dimensional even though it’s on a flat piece of paper
Obviously, then, using the flash on the top of the camera, is very counter-productive. You need to find a way to use a main light that is to the side, at least half way between you and the subject. Then you will get those defining shadows.
If you are using a dslr camera or any camera with a flash hot shoe, you have several options to consider. You can purchase a flash cable that will mount on your hot shoe and give you about an 18” coiled cable to move your flash off the camera and to the side or above the camera.
Being fully connected to the hot shoe contacts, you still get full flash metering even if it’s off-camera. If you use a Canon or Nikon dslr, you also have the option of using a wireless trigger made by several manufacturers. These units can fire the speedlites at a distance of fifty feet from the camera. Radio waves offer 360 degree coverage. I’ve even used one light outdoors aimed inside though a living room window to simulate daylight while I’m photographing my subject indoors. As I mentioned in a previous article, Godox sells speedlites with wireless triggers built in that are compatible with Nikon, Canon, Sony or Fuji camera systems.
Several models of Canon and Nikon offer infrared triggers for their flash units. While these are a good attempt, they are using infrared light to signal the flashes to fire. The problem with this is that infrared is very directional and needs line of sight with the camera. The camera sends the signal forward and must be in line with the flash to connect. If the light is behind the camera or is used outdoors in bright sunlight, most times the flash will not detect the infrared signals.
If you need assistance in solving your lighting issues, send me an email or see me at The Camera Store Thursday to Saturday.
Check out all your possible lighting options to improve your final images.
If you have questions, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Until next month,