If had to happened to catch our earlier write up about giving your camera more light, this post is a good extension to it. We’ll be covering light sources, the different types of them, and the pros & cons of each.

Our eyes rely on light to see, and so do our cameras. Since the first sundown, man has searched for ways to illuminate the dark by turning mass into energy. As our lighting techniques have advanced, so did lighting standards. For the most part, man-made light sources are mounted above us, instead of below. In conjunction with the sun, we view downward shining light sources to be “natural.” A second characteristic of the sun and most man-made light sources is size and diffusion.

Point and shoot cameras often have a built in flash, which is small in size and only an inch or two away from your lens. When illuminated, it provides a direct horizontal illumination which can be harsh and unflattering. Entry level dSLR cameras have this same flash mechanism, which is why its sometimes hard to tell a difference between its photos and a point and shoot’s.

In order to make our camera flash more “natural,” we need to modify two things. Its position and its diffusion. Below is a diagram of several different light sources.

The first is a speedlight/flash mounted to a camera. You’ll notice the head pointing upwards, instead of straight on. This is to bounce the light off the ceiling above, and then back down onto the subject. By bouncing it, the light gets diffused as it reflects from above, solving both of our objectives. The pros are a very soft, natural looking light. The cons are a loss of light, and having a suitable ceiling to work with.

Second, we have an off camera light. The first hurdle is getting your camera to talk to the speedlight. You can use a cable (affordable), or a wireless trigger (more practical) to send a signal from your camera to the flash. By moving the speedlight away from the camera, our options for diffusion and position are endless. As you progress, this will open up an entire new bag of creativity when shooting portraits, weddings, etc. This wedding portrait is a prime example of off camera lighting.

Third, we have a more powerful off camera light source. It serves a similar purpose as 2, but affords us 4 to 5 times the power a speedlight does. For example, photographing a wedding dress top of a mountain at 2:00 in the afternoon, you need a lot of light to combat sun shadows. A studio flash offers more power, but concedes a larger battery and size.

The last light source we’ll cover is natural light. Its powerful, large, and doesn’t need a battery. The only downfall is its inability to be dialed down on command. We like to use windows or reflectors as a way to diffuse natural light. Sunsets are also another great time to use it as a source. Although the sun light is coming in horizontally, like an on camera flash, the light is diffused by the atmosphere.

If you can train yourself to spot good natural light, you’ll be a more efficient photographer. Some of the most well known wedding photographers we know use almost all natural light. However, the sun does set and there are times you have to shoot in a studio, so its a good practice to get well versed in off camera lighting techniques. Just don’t let them be a crutch later on.

Lastly, number four, we wanted to share a handy mounting method we use for off camera speedlights. Using a Joby GorillaPod, you can attach your flash to just about anything. It’s a great way to reduce gear size and add flexibility.

Actually, one more thing. If you happen to be reading this on valentines day, and you’re a photographer, you might be interested in this deal. Adorama is offering a copy of Lightroom 3 for $80, which is $20 cheaper than we’ve ever seen it before. For those of you not familiar, Lightroom is a mirror of Photoshop, but provides a faster user interface, helpful when editing event style photography. It has a powerful tool set and everything a professional photographer needs. Lightroom 3 has been our workflow method for the past 2 years, and will continue to be so.


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