DON'T MISS: Italian conceptual portrait photographer Sara Lando is coming to the US to teach in Atlanta (8/16) and Baltimore (8/23). Highly recommended.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Variations on a Two-Light Theme, Pt. 3

Finishing up our quick series on two-light headshot ideas, we finally come around to something a little more mainstream looking. Today, two different spins on umbrella key used with on-axis fill.

More, inside.
__________

For the first two, we used a gridded flash and a gobo'd SB-III, respectively. Today we are going for a little more of a classic look, then putting a twist into it.

Steven, above, was lit entirely by flash -- no ambient contribution in the exposure. The key was an SB-800 in a shoot-thru umbrella, positioned right over the top of the camera. You can see the setup shot here:


(Setup shots courtesy Syl Arena / Paso Robles Workshops. Click on any pic for bigger.)

We used a white wall as a background, but dropped the wall to dark grey by moving everything away from the background to underexpose it. (All about the relative distance.)

We could have easily gone to black by moving further away. The point is that you can get any tone you want by depriving the wall of light -- or adding light to it.

Since we did not need to use the second light for the backdrop, that left us free to use it as fill. Our second light was an SB-800 in an Orbis ring flash adapter.

This two-light combo now gives us complete control over subject key, fill and background levels. The fill, obviously, being determined by the power level on the ring flash.

We can place the umbrella wherever we want, to shape Steven's face however we want. We don't have to worry about the shadows so much, because we are erasing them to whatever extent we want with on-axis fill.

And because we have control over the fill level, we can ease that key over into a more dramatic position. Just by moving the key around a little, we can give this same setup a little more attitude.


Enter, "Tokyo" Bill. (We had an extra Bill in the class, and we had to tell them apart somehow.)

With Bill, we can really rack that key light around to far camera left and work that Obi-Wan thing with his hoodie. Bill was damn-near ready to whip out a light sabre before we finished.

(That, of course, would not have fit into our two-light limit. But it would have looked friggin' cool.)

We can move the key around to sculpt his face and work the edge of his hood because we are not at all worried about the fill light in the deep, dark recesses under there at camera right. This is where on-axis fill shines, as it can worm its way into just about anything.

If you can see it from the lens axis, you can light it. As much or as little as you want. Here's the setup:



When using two lights like this, I find it very simple to think in terms of, "one for shape, and one for detail." You control the form with the key, and control the depth of the form with the fill.

That fill can be an off-axis strobe, or an Orbis (or Ray Flash, or ABR-800) or it can be ambient. All have advantages and disadvantages.

But working that shape-vs. detail balance can allow you to get many different looks with just a couple of speedlights.

First, Riaz, then Brett, now Steven and Bill. So Just a few quick and dirty, all-flash two-light headshot looks that you can whip out anywhere the ambient is controllable.

Which you may find very useful, starting next week.


__________

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44 Comments:

Anonymous Anthony Beard said...

Great stuff, as always!

June 04, 2009 12:10 AM  
Anonymous Thiago said...

David,

You're posts have been great as usual, but I must say that lately all of your setups have been revolving around the use of the Orbis as a fill.

I bet it rocks, but I think the majority of Strobists don't own such an adapter. Perhaps it would be interesting if you showed the differences in doing some of these setups with and without the ring flash mod?

Especially since someone who is limited to only two lights might have a higher likelihood of actually not being able to afford a ring flash adapter? (he/she could as well get a 3rd light source).

Just a thought from an Orbis-less reader.

Cheers!

June 04, 2009 12:43 AM  
Blogger Jeffery said...

What a great but simple lesson for the two light setup. I hope to use your information on an upcoming portrait session and head shot client. I have been following your blog for a long time and feel I can try these tips now. Please keep up the great work.

June 04, 2009 12:45 AM  
Anonymous Ben Bender said...

Looking forward to next week, bring it on!

-Ben

June 04, 2009 1:29 AM  
Anonymous ku manahan said...

On axis fill is beginning to play a large part in your arsenal of tricks David. I like it. Easy, effective, and very very controllable. I'll work on my on axis fill now. Kudos!

June 04, 2009 1:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

(I know I'll probably get scorned for this comment, but here goes anyway) If you didn't have a ring-light or second flash available, could you add the pop-up on the camera for fill? I think you mentioned this in the past, if I remember right, you were taking pictures of some kids in direct sun in a stream. Would you end up with a similar look?

June 04, 2009 1:41 AM  
Anonymous G. Chai said...

David, you make all this sound/look so easy. Thanks.

June 04, 2009 2:22 AM  
Blogger Charles Verghese said...

I dunno...I think I might have liked 'Tokyo' Bill's pic without the Orbis flash...might make for a better mood shot...or should I say..more dramatic.

But either way, great pictures and thanks for the tips....

And on your earlier post...what's up with the Rebel Alliance and the anti-strobist ways??

Charles

June 04, 2009 2:24 AM  
Blogger Dustin said...

the two light mainstream is definitely a keeper.

June 04, 2009 2:39 AM  
Blogger Bill Burgos said...

Ha! Ha!

Had I been referred as the 'extra' Bill during the shoot, I just might have whipped out the light sabre :P

June 04, 2009 3:05 AM  
Blogger Stephen said...

starting next week!? Uh oh... Boot camp? :P

June 04, 2009 3:21 AM  
Blogger Stuart Little said...

Hi David,

Out of curiosity more than anything. How far was Steven away from the wall?

Cheers

Stu

June 04, 2009 4:15 AM  
Anonymous ssbuchanan said...

I just recently made a blog post where I talked about using a ringlight to dial-in the fill
http://ssbuck.blogspot.com/2009/05/strobist-syd-sa75-and-ray-flash.html

June 04, 2009 4:26 AM  
Blogger Bugi said...

Uh oh... Looks like boot camp starts out with 2 lights this time...

Great post. Better get ready with my 2 manual flashes

June 04, 2009 5:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry, looks boring.

June 04, 2009 5:58 AM  
Blogger Tobias Naumann said...

Great post, thanks David.
How much of a difference does the ringflash for fill make compared to the popup flash of a D700/300/90/...?
Just wondering if it has to be a ringflash or if it's okay to use what I have without spending more money for new gear ;-)

June 04, 2009 7:14 AM  
Anonymous Nas said...

Very nice David.

If you're triggering the speedlight on the stand with a PW, how are you triggering the speedlight attached to the Orbis? Is it set up as a slave? I don't see any cables from it to your camera.

Thanks
Nas

June 04, 2009 7:27 AM  
Anonymous Colin Zylka said...

"Which you may find very useful, starting next week.".......

hmmm...do I see Boot Camp on the horizon??

June 04, 2009 7:57 AM  
Blogger Tim B said...

Sounds like its time for a bootcamp.

June 04, 2009 8:09 AM  
Anonymous KangLondonEater said...

Hi guys, hope this comment gets past the moderation, just want to say that I love this site. Been shooting since sept 08, but only with available light as I mostly shoot food in restaurants, and need to be quick and fast about it. I know next to nothing about creating light (heck, I don't even own an off camera flash), but I really want to expand myself photographically (man is that even grammatically correct?)

Im looking forward to learning all about proper lighting from you.

June 04, 2009 9:30 AM  
Anonymous Kathy Marciante said...

Great lighting!! Really helpful to see how the shots are set up. Is the ring light worth buying? ...looks like it.
Still baffled about how to set my flash settings for SB800. New to off camera flash...great blog!

June 04, 2009 9:53 AM  
Blogger David said...

@Thiago-

Not sure where you are getting the idea that all of my setups have been revolving around the Orbis as fill. It was not used at all in this series until this third installment.

My mission on this site is not to write about every light and light mod there is, but rather the gear that I am currently using and exploring. It's just a more straightforward and less complicated approach.

That said, if you do want to experiment with ring and cannot afford it, there is a big list of DIY options here.



@Anonymous @1:41am-

You said:

"(I know I'll probably get scorned for this comment, but here goes anyway) If you didn't have a ring-light or second flash available, could you add the pop-up on the camera for fill? I think you mentioned this in the past, if I remember right, you were taking pictures of some kids in direct sun in a stream. Would you end up with a similar look?"

And here's your scorn:

I'd be happy to answer your question. But you'll have to sign your name first.

:)


@Charles-

Without the fill, Bill's face was a soulless abyss of nothingness. He had gone completely over to the Dark Side.

You need some level of detail -- and your choice how much -- to rationalize the mood you are trying to set with control and legibility. Try it without the fill. It looks incomplete.


@Stu-


Oh, I dunno. Maybe 8-10 feet? That distance was determined by how the tone dropped on the wall as we walked the whole setup further away from it.

@Anonymous @5:58am

You're ugly and your mother dresses you funny. Signed, Anonymous.

@Tobias-

Yes, you can work that pop-up for very nice o-a fill in a pinch. But you will get a very small chin shadow because there is no light coming from under the lens.

@Nas-

Yep, slave. SU-4 mode on the SB-800. I do most all of my shoots with one PW and slaved flashes. Or, if I am filling from on-camera (bounce, etc.) no PWs.

June 04, 2009 11:00 AM  
Blogger Eddie Licitra said...

David-

Perhaps you could share on some alternatives to shooting through a ring flash? It seems like a choked up umbrella or an SB-III could work well in this case. What would be the best positioning?

Also, I'll add another vote to continuing the two light series. By far some of the most helpful information for me.

Thanks,
Eddie
http://www.flickr.com/eddielicitra/

June 04, 2009 12:33 PM  
Blogger kevin said...

Hi David,

I have been using the shoot through a lot lately. One thing I have noticed is that I have to be careful of the umbrella kicking flare back into the lens. Especially when backed up past the axis of the umbrella. I now flag it when doing so. I mention this because it can not be obvious from your LCD that this is happening and this could be a major suck on a job. Yes or am I the only one with issues?

Kevin

June 04, 2009 1:49 PM  
Blogger Dom said...

One thing (ok maybe several) that could help in my (and probably others') understanding would be to add key, fill and camera settings. I realize that with digital I can eventually zero in on similar settings, but being an inexperienced strobist, the info would provide a nudge (or push) in the right direction.

I am hoping some enterprising strobist will do a similar setup and post pics using various forms of key and fill. I plan on trying a couple of variations myself, but I do not have a ring flash.

June 04, 2009 5:46 PM  
Blogger David said...

... which is ironic, because we shot these during an exercise to show specifically that you did not need hard numbers and settings to do this.

Analogy: How much salt should you put in a pot of soup -- exactly?

The answer of course varies with the type of soup, how big the pot is and how salty you like your soup.

You gotta do some back reading: L101, L102, OA's, etc., if you want to understand this stuff. It is all in there.

Please understand that it just is not practical to start from zero on every post. Besides, if I spoon feed you on every post, you would never learn to think on your own.

If you do a little reading -- and actually shoot some exercises -- you will get it. I promise. It is not hard at all.


Best,
DH

June 04, 2009 6:02 PM  
Anonymous Hurtig said...

I love this series!

Please do the two light strips left and right next! Or maybe the clam-shell?

June 04, 2009 6:44 PM  
Blogger John said...

Hey, this is off subject, I check your website to find a way to contract you but turn out you must be super busy... However, I am sure you would read some of those comments. Now to the point, I wonder can you post a review about "Speedlights & speedlites creative flash photography at the speed of light book" by Focal Press??

June 04, 2009 7:48 PM  
Blogger David said...

Hey, John-

You left the note in the right place. Focal is sending me a copy, but I have to say that I am a little skeptical at this point. The hype on the Amazon page literally made me cringe.

It literally said something to the effect of getting perfect results, first shot every time with wireless TTL. That, of course, would make the author way better than McNally, of course.

Ahem.

I actually mentioned that tidbit to the marketing person at Focal as a reason the book raised my eyebrows a little. Alas, the claims have hence disappeared form the Amazon page.

They are sending me one anyway. I dunno, maybe it is great. Who knows. I will take a look at it ...

June 04, 2009 9:07 PM  
Blogger Don said...

Dave,
You really should have a whole week of "Reflector Card o rama" . Marc Hauser would be a good person to reference. How bout a field trip up to the Berkshire and visit my studio. I shoot with a Sunpak 622. Guide #200 5 times the power of the Nikon Flashes, plenty of power and only $249

June 04, 2009 10:22 PM  
Blogger Alan B. said...

What would be the pros and cons of shooting these same setups in TTL mode, with the A/B ratio slider determining the key/fill amounts?

June 04, 2009 11:38 PM  
Blogger David said...

Great shot, BTW. Something I haven't understood for a while now about this type of setup is how you trigger both the umbrella and the ring flash? I had assumed you'd need the camera's hot shoe to trigger the ring flash in which case I couldn't understand how the umbrella fired (other than optically). From the setup shot though, I see a PW on the camera. Is there a PW attached to the ring flash as well?? Isn't that a lot of gear all hanging off the camera?

I'm confused.
Cheers
David

June 05, 2009 1:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So if "Tokyo" Bill were holding the lightsaber (continuous) light source how would expose to keep the ambient from contaminating the background.

I suppose if you killed all the other lights you would probably still have enough light to focus from the saber itself, maybe.

Sorry, trying to be funny, ended up being silly.

Josh

June 05, 2009 2:02 AM  
Blogger mikeraboy said...

David,

This is my first time commenting. I confess I have been a lurker. I assume that the fill light is hand held, so that the trigger activates both lights. Is that correct.
Thank you for that I have learned and my wife thanks you for all that I have spent.

Mike

June 05, 2009 8:52 AM  
Anonymous Jake said...

Heya David,

It's well within the realm of possibility that I'm just being dense here, but these are the first two examples of your 2nd-light-on-axis technique where I'd swear you have the ring turned off completely; on the shot of Bill Burgos especially, I can't really read the fill into the shot at all (especially given the wide expanse of pure black along the front side of the hoodie). In posts where you're really trying to present some very subtle technique, I know I for one would find it a huge help to see a key-only example next to the finished product.

Thanks!

June 05, 2009 9:06 AM  
Blogger mikeraboy said...

David,

This is my first time posting. I confess that I have been a lurker. It appears that the fill light is hand held, so that the trigger activates both lights. Is that correct?

I would like to thank you for all that I have learned and my wife would like to thank you for all that I have spent.

Mike

June 05, 2009 9:28 AM  
Blogger David said...

Jake-

Actually, there is no swath of pure black on the hoodie. Your monitor may be a little out of whack, which could easily cause it to lose that tone.

The ring is there -- there was a distinct difference between the with and without shots when we were shooting it. But this series is more of a 'bag of tricks' type thing to give you ideas for two lights than it is a full step-thru.

-D

June 05, 2009 11:00 AM  
Blogger Michael J. Ross, MD said...

Even if you don't own a ringflash or don't have the hot-glue gun skill to make one (mine looks pathetic), you can set up an umbrella directly behind you, aimed at the subject. That will give you on axis fill just as well and may even be brighter that the ring flash, but you won't be able to move around as easily.

June 05, 2009 5:43 PM  
Blogger ege said...

ege edener...
HI David,
can you tell us at which f-stops you shot the
first picture? I mean the f-stop for the key, the fill
and your camera's...
that would let me understand better , how you
get that wonderful depth effect in the first picture....

thanks,

June 06, 2009 1:14 AM  
Anonymous Waldek Chadzynski said...

Michael J. Ross: You can use VAL, SUNBOUNCE MICRO-MINI or I remember somebody attached umbrella+stand to backpack ;)
David: Thank you for pushing people to experiment. Sometimes I'm thinking that photographers stop taking photos and just reading blogs and dreaming about nice shots. Go out, make mistakes. Now you can delete them on the spot so guy from one-hour photo aren't gonna laugh.
I'm exciting what you will show us next.

June 06, 2009 9:00 AM  
Anonymous Fergs said...

I wish I could wear shorts to work. Do you have any tips of how I can convince my editor to relax his nazi "you must wear a tie" mantra?
Thanks Dave, and keep up the good work.
Fergs

June 07, 2009 4:44 AM  
Blogger Ken said...

Hi David, I'm a regular visitor to your blog and enjoy it a great deal I am not sure how to contact you directly, so I apologise if this approach is inappropriate. I'm Ken McKay and I am the photographer responsible for publicity stills on Britain's Got Talent here in the UK. I have posted a few videos on my blog http://kenmckay.blogspot.com and You Tube showing how I work. Any feedback would be welcome as I am new to this blogging thing!

June 07, 2009 5:04 AM  
Anonymous Jens Rydén said...

Hi David,

Thanx for yet another interesting post!
I have a question regarding ring lights.
In this example, you're using the orbis ring flash just for fill light, correct? So, if you would turn off the flash with the umbrella, and just use the ring flash, the image would be under exposed, right?
For this kind of usage, is it possible to use those macro ring flashes? I know they are weaker and everything - but if the goal is to use it as fill light only, maybe the power is enough. Or?

Metz has this new macro ring flash unit called Metz 15 MS-1 that seems interesting as it's completely wireless and everything.

Please let me know your thougths about this!

Best regards

//Jens

June 07, 2009 10:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi David,

Thanx for yet another interesting post!
I have a question regarding ring lights.
In this example, you're using the orbis ring flash just for fill light, correct? So, if you would turn off the flash with the umbrella, and just use the ring flash, the image would be under exposed, right?
For this kind of usage, is it possible to use those macro ring flashes? I know they are weaker and everything - but if the goal is to use it as fill light only, maybe the power is enough. Or?

Metz has this new macro ring flash unit called Metz 15 MS-1 that seems interesting as it's completely wireless and everything.

Please let me know your thougths about this!

Best regards

//Jens

June 07, 2009 10:28 AM  

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