Small-Strobe Lighting Seminar

Well I’m no David Hobby, but a couple of weekends ago I conducted a small-strobe off-camera lighting seminar for a professional organization I belong to, Channel Islands Professional Photographers Association (CIPPA). I had originally planned to conduct it in a city park, so that I could demonstrate the use of ambient sunlight and balancing flash. But it rained that weekend, so at the last minute we moved it to the Mystique Studio. Thanks Leanne and Brenda for letting us use your space! I don’t remember the exact number, but we had roughly 10–12 attendees.

We also had two models help us out for the seminar. Cassie and Laura were very gracious and professional, even though there was a fair amount of sitting around while I talked. Much thanks to them as well!

All of the shooting was done with one or two lights. I started out with a single hard light (below). Hard light like this gives a very 40’s movie-star portrait look.

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I believe this next shot of Cassie (below) used a small silver umbrella. The light is a little softer, but it’s still pretty hard. Right here I was demonstrating that if you get your light in close, the difference between subject and background is much greater. The background here was a light tan, and the room was small. But dialed down and in close, the subject is properly exposed while the light-colored background falls dark.

I switched to a 53″ shoot through umbrella to shoot Laura. The light is much softer and the shadows fill in a bit more, even with just a single light. The shoot-through does tend to throw light around the room more, which can also account for some of the shadow fill.

I had originally planned to shoot ‘tethered’, so that the images would appear on a laptop (my wife’s laptop that I had borrowed). However for some reason I couldn’t get it working during the seminar, and decided to forge ahead. So I ended up showing everyone images on the camera display. Not the best way to demonstrate lighting techniques! If this were a bigger production, I’d shoot tethered and put up a projector so that people could see what I was doing. And then of course I’d have to charge money for it. πŸ™‚ Here I am, showing Cassie the results on the back of the camera (below). Note that giant softbox in the studio. It wasn’t used, but the little umbrella in the foreground was.

A shot of Laura posing while studio co-owner Leanne shoots. Whoever shot this (there was much sharing of cameras) managed to catch the strobe going off. Cool, huh? Note the main light is the umbrella to camera right (Leanne’s camera). The actual image was shot on a wide lens, so the umbrella is closer than it appears. That’s an SB-28 doing the hard work in the umbrella. The big glare behind the model is a Sunpak 333 with a cardboard snoot, for a hair light.

At one point the discussion turned to lighting large groups. I mentioned that I’d much rather light a large group indoors than outside, and someone didn’t believe me. I decided to set up the shot and show how to do it.

Here’s the problem: outdoors, in the sun, you’ve got a couple of choices. Point the group toward the sun, and watch them all squint and squirm and get dark shadows everywhere. Or you can put their backs to the sun and use the sun as a hairlight. But then you have to light their faces with strobe. And a big group requires distance from the camera, which means your light needs lots of power to cover the distance and still get even coverage and remain out of frame. All the while you’re managing your aperture against your maximum shutter sync speed with the sun. End result: lots of firepower needed.

But indoors, you can bump your ISO up to compensate for strobe deficiencies. Outdoors you can’t, because the sunlight is an ever present hassle. Indoor situations also often include free diffuser panels (i.e. walls and ceilings) that you can bounce your strobe off, which is better than any softbox or umbrella for a large group. Below I shot three of our attendees, Lisa, Bonnie and studio co-owner Brenda. I bounced the SB-28 off the light tan backdrop we’d been using with the models. I think my ISO was 800 on this. The result: nice, soft even lighting.

Photographers don’t seem to like having their pictures taken, for some reason. πŸ™‚

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