Saturday, 29 December 2007

Poor light guide part II

Renault rally team service area 1998 - a subtle fill-in flash image

In the last poor light guide post i mentioned the use of a flashgun as a way of creating better lighting for an image. This post will continue on the theme of fill in flash and its uses for lighting in poor light. My definition of poor light is light that is flat and lifeless; typically the sort of light encountered during the winter months when the overcast is thick or during bad weather.

The flashgun is one of the most underrated pieces of kit that a photographer has and yet the creative possibilities are endless. With a bit of knowledge and some practice, a flashgun can be used to subtle effect so that you wouldn't know where the flash finished and natural light started. This is fill-in flash at its best - a balanced mixture of artificial and natural light to create a well lit image.

The flashgun you use does not have to be sophisticated or expensive, although many high range guns come with modes that help the photographer take fill-in flash images. I use a modern Nikon SB-800 and an older Vivitar 283 for flash work getting excellent results for both. The most important thing is to get to know how your flash works so that you can set it for fill-in flash work quickly - quite simply find the settings that work for you and try it in all lighting situations. With digital photography this is just a case of shooting and adjusting - for film its a matter of practice but most negative films will produce good results even if the exposure calculations aren't quite right.

Correct exposure is the key to getting a subtle fill-in flash image. The image above of the rally service area was taken ten years ago using the Vivitar flash to light the foreground. The light wasn't flat but some fill in was needed on the service area to capture the colour and detail. The flashgun was set to 50% power and the shutter speed was around 1/125th second. I can't remember the exact f-stop but it would have been somewhere around f5.6. The result was a well lit foreground with a dramatic sky. With no flash, the foreground became dark and lifeless.

Many modern cameras have TTL (through the lens) flash which is where the camera and flashgun 'talk' to each other and the camera controls the light output of the flashgun. When enough light has been released it tells the flashgun to stop. This makes the whole process much easier but the best way to perfect the technique is to practise and experiment. Start at the recommended flash sync speed for your camera ( usually 1/125th) and try going down the shutter speeds. The dramatic image of the rally car in part I was taken with a 28mm lens at 1/15th second. The aperture was f8 with the flashgun set at 25% power. The flash captured the movement but the slow shutter of 1/15th added some blur to give a sense of speed.

Fill in flash is one of the best techniques for creating well lit images in poor lighting condiitons. It can be used to subtle or strong effect depending on what is required and is flexible enough to be used in most situations. Best of all it can help create great images.

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