Fun Portraits Using Just A Flash And Reflector – How We Shot It
The Equipment and Settings
- Nikon D700
- Nikon 35mm f/1.8 G, hand-held
- 1/250 sec @ f/1.8 & ISO 200
- 3-stop B+W Neutral Density Filter
- Manual Exposure, Manual WB, RAW
- 3x wireless flashes , Nikon SB80DX (not always easy to find, but a great value!)
- Flashes bounced off a ~30″ reflector, from the left @ eye level
- Radio triggering and flash power controlled via RadioPopper JRX triggers
How We Shot It
Today’s image is a good demonstration of what to do in minimalist, low-key situations when you still want to achieve quality lighting. This portrait session started on a golf course, and I just didn’t feel comfortable setting up a whole set of light stands, umbrellas / dishes, etc. etc. (Yes, I did receive permission to shoot there, but at the same time I don’t want to wear out my welcome, you know what I mean?)
So, in a pinch, I’ve found that you can always just use a reflector plus a couple hotshoe flashes. Now while this allows you to avoid setting up light stands and modifiers in a delicate location, it does require an assistant. Usually. ;-)
…I suppose you could always just do this? Of course this isn’t really the best option if your subjects are standing up, let alone jumping, but you’ll see how I used this particular setup in just a minute.
Usually, the best thing is to just have your assistant stand in the position you would usually want your light to come from, and instead of worrying about the angle of the sun, they just aim the reflector pretty much directly at your subjects, and hold a small hotshoe flash near the edge of the reflector, pointed back at the reflector similar to the above image.
For this portrait, a single flash would have been fine, however I was shooting action so I wanted to have a half-decent recycle time. (I wanted to be able to shoot rapid fire if necessary, and have my flashes keep up with me!) So I grabbed all three of my flashes, and added two more flashes (just laying on the grass) to the one flash that my assistant was hand-holding. With three flashes I was able to shoot them all at about 1/16 or 1/8 power, instead of 1/1 power. At 1/8 or 1/16 power, you’ll have no problem getting quite a few “pops” out of an ordinary hotshoe flash while shooting at about 5 FPS.
With my RadioPopper JRx flashes, I can adjust my flashes’ power wirelessly, from my camera, so I don’t have to worry about walking over to my flashes and changing the power manually or yelling to my assistant “up a stop on that flash, down a stop on the other flash!” I have found this convenience to be extremely valuable when shooting on-location in simple, quick situations where I’m trying to achieve a number of different photos without taking an hour to set up a scene.
Yes, I do take plenty of “dud” test exposures. But after a while you start to know what flash power you’re probably going to need for a scene, based on the distance from your light source to your subjects. Eventually you should only need to take a small number of test shots before you’ve got your exposure dialed in perfectly.
The next thing I had to concern myself with was, I really wanted to test out the new Nikon 35mm f/1.8 at it’s widest aperture, f/1.8. This would have been no problem since my subjects were standing in the shade, however my RadioPopper JRX triggers can’t operate beyond my camera’s native flash sync speed of 1/250 sec. Shooting at f/1.8 with broad daylight in my background would have resulted in the whole image being quite over-exposed. So I grabbed my 3-stop B+W Neutral Density Filter and added that to my exposure. This allowed me to shoot at f/1.8 instead of f/5.6 or so.
I like the above image too, of course, but engagement sessions are all about delivering variety. Actually this is true of pretty much all photography- If you don’t experiment with variety from time to time, you may get stuck in a rut. So, think outside the box! Don’t feel intimidated by technical (or location related) restrictions; often times a solution that delivers very high-quality lighting is much easier than you think.
Here are a few other images that were created using the same basic technique of bouncing a flash or two against the silver or white side of a medium-sized reflector:
Here’s what the original image looked like, straight out of the camera in Adobe Lightroom 5:
Because I paid close attention to both my ambient exposure and my flash power, the image had great detail and tone right off the bat. (No, I’m not bragging, don’t forget that there were plenty of horrible test-exposures!)
The processing was very simple. I hit the image with the SLR Lounge Preset System’s “HDR for portraits” type presets, and it just so happened that “Medium” worked perfectly with just one extra bump to the highlight recovery, and -0.10 or -0.20 dialed in on the exposure:
From here, I simply warmed up the image to my taste. Since there was a lot of green in the scene, I had to go down to my Camera Calibration section of the Develop Module, and bump my shadows in the magenta direction by +5. This gave me the final shot:
Just for kicks, I also added two more versions, using the SLR Lounge Preset “Neutral Apricot Fade” and then my own personal recipe for B&W images:
All in all, the post-production took less than one minute total for all three final images. Not bad!
If you have any questions about the lighting techniques or other technical shooting information, please leave a comment below!
Take care, and happy clicking,
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