Simply put - if you need light - bring it in. This goes for everyone - not just event photographers like us, or strobists with their off camera flashes. This includes point and shoot users. If you're at home, or anywhere really - when you need more light, turn on some lamps. You'd be surprised by how much people prefer to have good photos than 'mood' lighting. Of course - I'm getting ahead of myself here.
If you're really interested in learning about light and shutter speed and f/stops - check out the Lighting 101 page on Strobist.com. But I know you're probably not going to sit down and read all of that just yet so here are some basic guidelines that we follow regarding light when we make photos. One thing though - when we say exposure - we're talking about whether or not something is completely washed out, completely black, or right on. Those aren't bad things, but you should be able to control and decide what areas are exposed whichever way in your photos.
- Don't use only on-camera flash. Ever. (Okay, 99.999 percent of the time don't use only on-camera flash - even a few inches to the side and attached to a bracket is better than right on the hot shoe.)
- If there is enough ambient/available light - use it and don't add any flashes
- If there isn't enough light - or worse, if it's boring ambient light - bring in the flashes and bounce them off the ceilings/walls
- Don't be afraid to shoot directly at a flash
- Make sure you have enough 'fill' light so people's fronts aren't in darkness
- Don't be afraid to move people around so their faces aren't in shadow (people would rather have a good photo than be comfortable most of the time!)
- Check.Your.Exposures! (look at the back of your camera and make sure everything's still exposing correctly - light conditions change)
- Shadow areas can still be your friend
- Flat, even light is boring
- Focus on exposing the areas you want to expose and don't worry about getting 'everything'
- Learn how to handle 'flashes' and 'natural light'.
Now - as event photographers - light's always an issue. When we set up our lights, there are three areas we can make adjustments. On the flashes themselves with power settings, on the flashes again by adding diffusers, and finally in-camera with the f/stops. We recently photographed a wedding reception held in a restaurant - which meant dim mood lighting. In situations such as this - we try not to just blast bright white light everywhere to fill the room. We want flickers or slivers of light - hardly noticeable at first - and after a while people don't notice them at all.
We used a three light triangle setup. Now - you might think that it'd make more sense to space them out evenly, making an isosceles triangle, instead of the right triangle you see above. An isosceles triangle would give even light from every angle. But remember - we don't want even light. We want shadows because they add a look of deeper dimensions to spaces - and the only places we ever see even light is in controlled studio situations - so we avoid that in our event photography.
You may or may not be able to tell in these photos - but the light is actually a bit softer than it would be had we just aimed bare flashes at the table. Unless they're really close to the subjects - and we're talking within a foot - bare flashes deliver a really hard light. So whenever we can, we soften them up by adding a diffuser. In this case, we used our IKEA cabinet liner diffusers.
Made from opaque IKEA cabinet liners and some velcro from Home Depot. They fit over any of our 15 various model flashes and work better than most of the 'official' diffusers that are little more than really great tupperware.
But how do you learn how to handle outdoor lighting? If you're using a point and shoot camera, turn off your flash. I know - this goes against the idea of using your flash for 'fill' light - especially in the shadow areas with the sun shining brightly - but try this instead - first focus your camera at the darkest area of your photo, and let your camera meter for that area. It'll totally blow out the 'white' areas of your photo, but you'll get a clear bright shot of your subjects. What you're trying to do is fool your camera into metering for the areas you want to photograph, and not the areas that you don't care about.
For example - this photo above. Shot about 3 hours before sundown - the sun was really bright and it's just outside the frame. I exposed for the couple and not 'everything' - which left the right side of the frame washed out white. If this was shot on an 'automatic' setting, the camera would've compromised and tried to keep the sun area toned down, and at the same time expose for the the darker spots - and this is why automatic on your camera sucks. It'll choose a middle exposure that's either really boring, or just really bad. This is why snapshots look like snapshots.
Knowing how to control your exposure will completely change the look of your photos, so that even posed snapshots and natural light can be photos that you'd want to keep.
And... this has become a monster post! and I could go on forever talking about light. So we'll just end it here and see you next week.