When I started using lighting equipment, articles on the web were still relatively rare. The posts I could find were, for the most part, how to post-process his images. But this step is one of the last in the production chain. So I spent a lot of time testing my equipment, trying to understand how the light travels and how the camera captures it. It was by informing and experimenting that I was able to identify what was important from what was less important, to define what is essential throughout the creative process. These are the things that I share in my workshops because even before you “develop” an image, you have to be able to capture it. I will rather review what seems to be important and the basics that will allow you to promote your creativity and take technically correct photos.
Knowing your camera and its functions are essential. The manual of your device remains the best way to understand its operation, read it until you know any menu. Mixed with the practice, it allows acquiring automatisms quickly!
The basics of the exhibition with flash:
- Sensitivity (ISO).I always start with the ISO sensitivity set to minimum (100 or 200 depending on the case). I only increase it when I run out of ambient light to expose my scene as part of an outdoor session, for example. This is because the higher the ISO sensitivity (e.g., ISO 1600), the more the image quality may be affected by the rise of digital noise (loss of detail, reduction of contrast). Especially in the dark areas where it can quickly degrade the image. Although the new devices allow climbing very high, I prefer to avoid increasing them to maintain a clean image.
- Shutter speed. The basic settings when shooting in the studio is 1 / 125s. or 1 / 200s. For outdoor shooting, use the speed to expose your scene. Never go below 1 / 80s freehand. This will avoid the risk of camera shake. Also, be careful not to exceed the sync speed of your device (1 / 125s – 1 / 200s – 1 / 250s depending on your case). Beyond this synchronization speed, the image will be partially black, because the second curtain is closed while the first has not yet finished its action: the shutter is only partially open. This is known as the “curtain shutter effect,” and this is not always noticeable on the LCD screen of the camera. Avoid this kind of mistake ruining your session!
- The opening. It determines the depth of field, so it’s an artistic choice. If you like photos with beautiful blurs behind and in the foreground, use a large aperture (e.,g. f / 2.8). If, on the other hand, you like snapping and sharp images all the way down, use a small aperture (e.g., f / 8.0 or more). Aperture also affects how the camera will capture light from the flash. A large opening gives a more “scintillating” on the skin while a small opening produces a more “mattified”. It is important to note that the more you use a small aperture (high f / x value), the more flash power you will need.
The box configuration
- The white balance. I always manually adjust the white balance directly on my camera to match the temperature produced by my flashes. I always adjust around 5000k which allows me to keep a correct skin color on the whole of my session. Using automatic white balance may seem convenient and work well, but it also adds more post-production work due to variations in light and color on the same session. However, with a manual adjustment, you will have a consistent image temperature on all of your files. So of course, if you shoot in RAW, it is not mandatory, but it is a simple way to save time in post-production and to avoid additional manipulation on the file.
- The file format. The dynamic range of an image is important for capturing digital photos. This is the ratio of the brightest tone to the darkest that can record your device. I always choose the RAW format because it allows capturing a maximum of light and information of color. It also offers better control in post-production and allows a margin of maneuver in case of error and incorrect settings on your camera when shooting. It gives, for example, the possibility of modifying the exposure without irreversibly degrading your image. It also makes it possible to draw multiple exposures from the same file to broaden the dynamic range of a photo or change the white balance without loss.
- The color profile. Setting the color profile on the box is not necessary if you have selected the RAW format as the file type. However, it can be useful to configure it if you use software like DPP or Capture NX (depending on the brand of your box) so that it is directly interpreted by the software or with applications such as PhotoMechanic which uses the jpeg contained in RAW to display images when selecting quickly. I use the profile Adobe RGB 98 which for me, is the most adapted and that I use throughout the development process of my images.
- The brightness of the screen. One of the most common mistakes is to increase the brightness of the screen so that images on the camera are more flattering or set to AUTO. I prefer to set it manually to be sure not to shoot over-underexposed images.
- The over exchange alert to avoid any burned lights on your images, it is important to activate the sex alert if this option is present on your box. It is a quick control that can be of great help to adjust the power of the flashes. When I want to work with hard light, I can decrease the power of my light until the clipped areas stop blinking on the screen. You can, of course, control your images through the histogram but it is not as fast as to see it directly on the image. Be careful, the on-screen display, and the resulting sex alert depends on the image processing settings in the camera (picture styles). What is displayed and what is overexposed does not necessarily correspond to what the RAW file has recorded.
Whether you are zooms or fixed focal lengths, it will have little influence on your images if you are equipped with high-end models. For my part, I have always preferred fixed focal lengths for their large apertures and their better management of optical distortion. But the real reason for this choice is that I consider zooming to achieve my framing, as an additional setting. I also think that many photographers use their zooms at the minimum or maximum focal length (e.,g. 24mm or 70mm in the case of a 24-70mm) in the vast majority of cases. Zoom is also often more bulky/heavy to carry than a fixed focal length. However, I consider that if you can not afford the purchase of a wide aperture zoom, purchase a fixed focal length 50mm 1. 8 will always give you a better picture quality than an entry-level zoom or supplied as a kit with your camera (50mm 1.8 costs only 100 €). Get information via test sites such as DPReview to get the most out of your optics. An even entry-level zoom is more efficient at such a focal length and such an opening than another. It’s a simple way to make sure you produce an image with good sharpness, less optical distortion, etc. In a few words, a quality rendering. AF-AutomaticThere are trends that come back regularly like to focus in manual mode. These trends (like many others) do not make sense to me. The autofocus current devices are very powerful, I advise against switching to manual mode if only in the rare cases where your AF skates (as in places with low light) to avoid any nasty surprises when you consult your images on your computer screen. However, it may be interesting to take the time to test the manual focus aperture for precisely those situations where your AF would not manage to catch the subject of your session. In general, the focal lengths that I use by type of session are:
- From 24mm to 50mm for group and athlete portraits
- From 50mm to 135mm for classic type portraits
- From 85mm to 135mm for street portraits
Direct light creates hard shadows. The more the shadows are diffuse and in quotation marks. These are fundamentals that require a good understanding to make the best use of your lighting equipment because once acquired; they will allow you to shape the light at your leisure. The best solution for understanding this theory is still to test it in real conditions.
See the light as a spray
Most photographers think regarding control over shadows when they use artificial light. I prefer to think and ask myself the question of what I want to enlighten or highlight according to the subject and the end-use of the image. I think two completely different approaches will allow you or not to promote your creativity. The lighting focuses on the features of the face and reveals the texture as that of the skin. Choosing to illuminate a part to leave it in the shadow of others will allow you to give character to your subject or to reveal it according to the context in which you want to photograph it. One of the mistakes I noticed during my workshops, is the bad reflex that participants have to place the lighting at the height of the model and try to counter the shadows using a second source, which often makes the lighting “flat”! That is uniform all over the face. Start by mounting the source higher than your model and tilt it in its direction! This is the best way to start with the work of modeling. See the artificial light as a spray painting. Learn how to control the spray that springs to work accurately. Start by mounting the source higher than your model and tilt it in its direction! This is the best way to start with the work of modeling. See the artificial light as a spray painting. Learn how to control the spray that springs to work accurately. Start by mounting the source higher than your model and tilt it in its direction! This is the best way to start with modeling. See the artificial light as a spray painting. Learn how to control the spray that springs to work accurately.
Broadcasters and modifiers
Umbrella, Softbox, beauty bowl, reflector, etc. are a way to shape the light and control it. It is important to understand their impact as well as their rendering on the subject. I tested my equipment extensively to understand when and how to use them. This is not the panoply of accessories or your “Giant Softbox” that will make you a “Master of light,” but the way you will put them to the benefit of your creative mind. I was able to define what type of material to use depending on the type of session or the desired rendering (see page ” Gear “). Learn how to master a lighting configuration before moving to another is the same about broadcasters. Experiment, polish your routine step by step. Several reasons make me insist on this point. The first is to avoid investing in equipment that will end up in a closet because you simply did not need it. The second is that it is necessary to practice and repeat the same patterns to know the tools that will allow you to fire in all circumstances. Finally, it will allow you to refine your style so that your lighting becomes the signature that will make your work recognizable.
Build an image and how to achieve it
The use of lighting leaves little room for improvisation especially outdoors where the conditions are variable, unlike shooting in the studio. It is, therefore, necessary to define the type of images you want to make. The images we see every day are good sources of inspiration. Learn to break them down and ask yourself about the elements that made it happen. “Redo” a photo as one remakes a football match. Analyze the framing, details, learn to read the lighting to reproduce or improve. Preparing a maximum of your session is for me the best way to achieve a good result. Surround yourself with motivated and competent people! Whether assistants, makeup artists, hairdressers, etc. Each of them contributes to the success of your session. Choose good subjects, whether pro models or not, they represent 80% of the success of your image. Work in a clear and well-organized manner to encourage creation … A full article on the preparation of the session, soon! Composing your session according to the material in your possession essential to guarantee a good result. The first limits I faced were the little power generated by the only flash cobra I had. That’s not why I deprived myself of doing the pictures I wanted to make. I simply avoided the situations in which I could be confronted. Frustration is a hindrance to the creative process. Take the time to explore the possibilities that your equipment offers you and you will soon realize that the only limits are often the ones you set for yourself. Avoid multiplying sources unnecessarily — no need to go light shadows that a diaph on your case would be enough to mitigate. If you need to use more than one, do not turn on all your torches at the same time! I always adjust my sources individually (one after the other). Never underestimate the shot by thinking that Photoshop will work wonders. It is better to start with a good photo and sublimate it in post-production than to start with a bad photo and to correct it at length to make it average … Save your time! Stay “Master” of your session. Even if I feel that the customer is king, I am also committed to my creativity, so I strive to combine the best art and authenticity of my subject. Keep in mind that you are ultimately the only responsible for the image you are about to shoot. Analyze your session. Take a step back to understand what worked and what did not work. Ask your team for feedback on what could be improved. Never stay on a failure! To question yourself, to take the time to find solutions and to start again are the best ways to evolve and refine your technique. Be selective in the choice of your images. I rarely give more than five photos to a model (3 seems closer to reality). Solicit the opinion of some photographers with a keen eye and whom you can trust to analyze your images in case of doubt. Remember that your photos are the image of your work and that delivering unprocessed images or publishing photos solely to maintain your news will never be a good ad for you. Never allow your images to be retouched without your permission. Keep in mind that a portfolio of 10 good quality photos will always be more valuable than those same ten pictures drowned in the middle of 40 other “averages.”
I tried to gather in this article what seems essential to me, to define in outline what constitutes a good start and which I hope will lead you to realize good images. I also hope it will be a good answer to the questions that beginners are asking as well as a good reminder for savvy photographers.