Then & Now – My Photography Journey | Off-Camera Flash
As I mentioned before, I am going to write a little series of articles sharing what I have learned in my 12 years as a professional photographer. It probably could fill volumes, but I’ll stick to some of my major AHA! moments. This one deals with the ongoing struggle to elevate my photography skills above the millions of other competent photographers out there, yet stay true to my style.
I’ve always been a natural light photographer, with the exception of maternity and newborn photography (for which I use studio lights). I just prefer the organic feel to it, and I know exactly how to position my portrait subjects to use it in a flattering way. It’s also easier for me since I work without an assistant most of the time. However, many people who haven’t really studied natural light have a little trouble seeing the difference between the times when it works very well (like my relatively closeup portraits) and when it doesn’t (flat lighting on a dull cloudy day, or wide differences in background and foreground light like bright sunny days).
It really wasn’t until I moved to sunny South Carolina that I truly embraced adding off-camera flash to my everyday skill set. Part of it was that I needed to be able to photograph people with the lake in the background, of course. And since it is always sunny here, and the lake can’t be moved to where I need it to be (!), I had to learn to be comfortable and confident using flash if I wanted my images to be of professional quality.
It isn’t good enough to just provide a well composed and well exposed picture anymore…it needs to be BETTER than that to provide the value that my clients pay for. Otherwise, they may as well just use their “friend with the really good camera”.
Last week I was in Phoenix, Arizona visiting my sister-and-brother-in law (okay, more like mooching a midwinter vacation off of them, but whatever). They really wanted to get a picture of Paul with his newest love, his off road Jeep that he has been fixing up and riding in the desert. Maybe more fixing than riding, but still having a blast with it. They also knew that they would want a large canvas of it.
Portraiture is my love and passion, but this was going to add an element of landscape imagery to it. I knew that in a desert with a white Jeep, I would have texture and the people with the Jeep for interest, but not a lot of color. It was pretty obvious that we would need to bring the sunset into it, and that we would need more dramatic lighting. Since we had flown into Phoenix without checking bags, I only had one flash with me.
We did a little scouting for the right location (I wanted mountains in the background and the sun to be setting behind them), the right time (a bit before sunset), and the right wardrobe for the look I wanted (I thought it would be fun to go formal, since everything else was so casual/dusty). Fortunately Paul has a tux, and I convinced Linda to get in the image in formalwear also.
Luckily there were enough clouds in the sky to get a colorful sunset. We had about 20 minutes to do the shoot. The setting sun was backlighting them enough that one flash was able to do the job, although I was really wishing that I had brought another.
This is the perfect example to show you the difference that off-camera flash can make in an image that will stand out. Here is the one that I took using natural light, exposing for the couple. It is certainly adequate – sharp, composed well, and exposed properly for the situation (the areas where the sunlight was bright are blown out, to keep the faces). Lots of people would think it’s just fine.
But look what happens when we add off camera flash, which lets me expose for the beautiful setting sunlit sky while lighting the couple more dramatically and independently (that’s my husband on the right, holding the flash which is pointed at them and the Jeep -don’t worry, he got photoshopped out in the final image!):
With just a little tweaking in Photoshop, this becomes an image that is worthy of a beautiful large canvas in their home. And it doesn’t look like an image that just anyone could take – it stands out in a dramatic, polished, eye-catching way.
And THAT’S my goal! I want you to be able to see the differences in style and quality that a professional photographer can provide for you and your beautiful family, because you deserve it.