dSLR + speedlight - key light or fill light (people and events)?

Discussion in 'Nikon' started by RaymondC, Oct 22, 2017.

  1. It's that time of the year as a attendee I was asked to take some photo's. I usually do landscapes with a tripod so these things were never an issue for me. Edit - D600, SB800, 70-200 F4 VR.

    I was at ISO 2800, F4, 1/60. I set auto ISO a min of 1/60. With people gathering events, would you use fill light or key light? With key light one could maybe underexpose the scene maybe reaching 1/125, a lower ISO, and use the light to fully light up the person. This would slow down the flash right. The ambient background would be darker as well for an event place. If it was fill light then one would need a 2.8 lens which I don't have and or up the ISO and if one wanted 1/125 instead. On the occasion I used fill light and stuck with 1/60.

    I find 1/60 was ok and that is what some people have said they use in the situation, compromises right. Not saying I wouldn't mind 1/125.

    I was using my 70-200mm F4 VR with stabiliser on.

    I was able to use the ceiling and bounce it, but hey - if the ceiling was not white would you just used a on camera flash diffuser and live with that?

  2. What I do in this kind of situation is........none of the above. I put my camera in manual, S 1/60, F 8 , VR, and iso 100-400. Put your flash in ttl mode. Fire away! The flash will adjust the light to make the exposure and your camera is set up to get the clearest image possible. I usually don't rely on bounce but keep my flash at a 45 degree angle.

    Try it. It works well.
  3. If you use a flash as a fill light, the color temperature must match that of the ambient lighting. Easy enough outdoors, but you need an amber filter in incandescent light, or a green filter under fluorescent lights.

    Indoors, it's better that the flash is intense enough to overpower ambient light. I generally use a flash dome or cap, and point it straight up so that bounce light seems to come from above, and light from the side of the cap adds fill. Outdoors, the direction can be straight on, with or without a cap, but with the flash compensation set to -1 stop, so it truly acts as a fill to the sun's "key" light.
  4. On that note, one of the "perks" of the SB800 is that it comes with pre-fitted gels designed for exactly that situation. I think the flash is even "smart" enough that it will apply the appropriate amount of compensation when you're using reverse GN mode.
  5. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    I assume that is the 'correct' exposure for the Ambient Lit Scene?

    If yes, then although I use Canon DSLR and Fuji Mirrorless, typically and generally this is what I would do and the same approach applies to any camera and speedlite combination used for Event Photography:

    1. use Manual Camera Mode (including manual ISO) and drop the ISO to around ISO 1600
    2. slow the Shutter to about 1/30s~1/25s (note we are still in the area 'a correct exposure' for the Ambient Exposed Image)
    3. (initially) control the Ambient Exposure component (relative to the Flash Exposure Component) by means of selecting the APERTURE - typically in this case somewhere between F/4 to F/5.6 (i.e. in simple terms if you want a darker appearance background then use F/5.6, maybe F/6.3... etc)
    4. ensure that there is enough FLASH POWER (i.e. quick calculation that you have not exceeded MAXIMUM FLASH WORKING DISTANCE - distance from Subject to Flash - use the GUIDE NUMBER for the APERTURE selected and check that you have not exceeded that Flash distance - including any BOUNCE that you might use)
    5. set the Flash to TTL
    6. control the Flash Exposure component by using Flash Exposure Compensation

    The "type" of Flash Light (hard soft etc) is determined mainly by the Light Modifier (or none) that you choose to use: for example - bounce ceiling; bounce card; backward wall-ceiling bounce; diffusing dome, etc.

    If you want to gel the Flash, to match incandescent or flouro room lights that's fine: often I don't worry about that, depending upon the event and the purpose - if as mentioned the Nikon Flash has AI that provides 'gelling' then that's a bonus, so it would be good to use it: but sometimes it doesn't matter all that much, it depends.

    The salient point is that for mostly all cases of low light level Event Photography with Flash, the Flash Duration (which is a very short period of time) will effectively freeze the Subjects' Movement - so you are almost always at liberty to choose a lower ISO and/or a longer Shutter Speed for the Ambient Exposure Component of the Final Image - ergo, you have the flexibility of a larger RANGE of Apertures to use (if you slow the Shutter Speed) and/or you get crisper (less noise) (iwhen you drop the ISO).

    Whether the Flash is "Key" or the Flash is "Fill" is more a theoretical and academic question, rather than a practical consideration: in reality it is about the blend of the Ambient Exposure and the Flash Exposure.

  6. I will bounce the flash, IF the ceiling/wall is white or close to white. If the ceiling is NOT white, I will use direct flash, to avoid color pollution.
    I use my flash on a bracket that holds the flash head about a bit more than a foot above the lens, so no red eye, and the shadow is directly behind the subject and less visible.
    I used to use a SB-24 "auto" flash, camera on M, and adjust the aperture based on how the shot turned out.
    Auto usually worked fine, except when I zoomed in with the lens, because the flash sensor could not zoom, it still saw the moderately wide scene. For these shots I usually had to adjust the 2nd shot. I now have an SB-800 to try iTTL, so this problem should reduce.

    I don't know what you are shooting, but the 70-200 would be awfully clumsy to use with a flash, for me. I use a shorter and easier to handle lens; 18-70 or 18-140 on a DX camera.
  7. I would always try the bounce option first, with that as the key and overpowering any artificial light or supplementing (daylight) window lighting.

    With the flash as key, you don't even need a white or near-white bounce surface. Just put the camera on Auto White Balance. You'll be surprised just how much of a bounce tint AWB can compensate for. But of course the surface chosen should be as light in colour as you can find.

    I also find that using the widest "zoom" setting on the flash usually gives the best results when bouncing. And aim the light at a wall or ceiling just out of lens-angle shot. In other words, don't get the bounce hot-spot in camera view.

    If space is tight, you can even bounce off a wall or ceiling behind you.

    Those little flash diffuser caps are a waste of time IMO. They do nothing to soften direct flash, and just lose you flash power. The built-in bounce card gives the same catchlight effect. Or better yet a flash like Nissin's Di866 or a Metz Hammerhead that has a secondary flash tube.

    "I now have an SB-800 to try iTTL, so this problem should reduce."
    - Good luck with that Gary!
    Last edited: Oct 23, 2017
  8. Cheers for that :)

    I just tried some testing at home since the event is over. The event was ok, saw my images they're probably only wanted in digital form anyway. With Williams method it worked better. Similar to mine except mine was as metered, I could have reduced the shutter a bit and lowered the ISO and maybe underexposed the b/ground by a bit too.

    Using main/key flash at base ISO the image including the person was underexposed, tried also with manual flash at full power - same thing. If the person was backed against the wall like on the sofa here ... without background area key light flash was OK.

    Will try again but keeping the ambient light was maybe more warmer and pleasing ... Will also try again with maybe a ISO 400 or 800 and see if the key flash works.

    At the occasion, I did use direct flash but the colors were yucky and the flash was so harsh on the skin. Then I was standing there and remembered bounced flash and that was much better better illuminated and warmer colors and softer looking.
  9. I disagree, and I've been doing this for a long time. The cap doesn't absorb light, it distributes it over a wide angle. Used directly on the subject, it is too small to have any diffusion effect, but bounced from the ceiling and walls, it looks like natural light, only better. and fills in the shadows and the background as well.

    Flash power (joules) is of little consequence when you can get good results at ISO 3200 or more. So little power is required for fill light (or even key light), that I find a set of four AA batteries lasts for an entire event or more - hundreds of shots. The flash barely winks for the exposure.

    In a big auditorium, bounce light is ineffective. Try to use ambient light for the key and your flash for fill, with -.5 to -1 stop compensation. Colored gel should be used to match room light. For large groups, you must move the light several degrees off axis, otherwise everyone with have red-eye, and look like a pack of jackals in a spotlight. A 200 mm lens at an event will have the same effect, only fewer "jackals" in the frame.
  10. Checked EXIF, i was at 70mm. Yes, the mid lens might had been easier to use and mine is a 2.8. Worked out in the end anyway...

    It was inside a booked out restaurant so the ceiling was white'ish and not terribly high but certain area size. There were some singing and movement, the younger a bit of waving and hops. Would a 1/30 or 1/60 been ok? I didn't capture those but just picked the occasion when the person was singing into the microphone and relatively still body movement.
  11. "The cap doesn't absorb light, it distributes it over a wide angle."
    - Exactly! It throws light behind itself as well, effectively wasting flash power (and annoying any audience). And the nett lighting result is much the same as bouncing, but without any directional control.

    "Used directly on the subject, it is too small to have any diffusion effect,"
    - So, err, why bother?

    "In a big auditorium, bounce light is ineffective."
    - but a silly little inefficient diffuser cap is?
  12. In order to get a soft light effect, the diffuser has to be nearly as large as the subject. I use 5' soft boxes for main and fill for portraits. When bounced, the ceiling and walls act as the diffuser, but enough light leaks from the side of the cap to provide catchlights.

    I've seem people use diffusion devices on flash units from their seats in an auditorium, or the flash in their smart phone from 35' away. Ineffective? Sure, but if you have an iPhone, you're an expert. Not just huge spaces either. I've shot several events in restaurants and jazz clubs with black ceilings. Diffusion with a cap is not omnidirectional. Much more light comes out the end than the sides. I make use of this effect as appropriate to the situation.

    For what it's worth, I don't shoot from the audience, and I don't use flash when it would interfere with the enjoyment of others. With good results as high as ISO 25,600, I hardly use flash at all, except for fill.

    Direct flash with my Nikon tended to overexpose badly when used at "social event" distances. The diffusion cap helped spread the light and reduce its intensity (per square foot). That is not necessary with my Sony kit and flash, nor for all I know, with a new Nikon system.

    It always pays to know what your equipment will do, and when it can be useful.
  13. I just did some comparisons of a camera mounted speedlight with its built-in diffuser down and catchlight card up, versus a diffuser cap (yes, I do own one - it was free with the flash).

    Using both setups in ~45 degree ceiling bounce, I could honestly detect no difference in the quality of light between the two. However the diffuser cap showed a loss of at least half a stop of light against aiming the bare flash at the sweet spot (relative to subject distance) of the ceiling.

    I'll give the diffuser cap the advantage of being more "bullet-proof", in not caring too much where it was aimed, but that was also its weakness, in not being very controllable.

    The bare flash could be zoomed and aimed at a small area of light-coloured wall or ceiling in an otherwise dark-painted room to get a useful amount of soft light. Not so the diffuser cap.

    I could also aim the bare flash into the join between wall and ceiling to get a very efficient bounce that showed a full stop advantage over the diffuser cap. That's not a small deal, since event lighting is often much more about getting the right quantity of light, rather than quality.

    FWIW, my tests were done over a distance of 6 metres - about 20 ft - where 1/4 power on the flash allowed an exposure of f/5.6 at ISO 200. The ceiling was white-painted and fairly low. However, I'd expect a greater ceiling height to give no advantage to either direct bounce or diffuser cap.

    Upping the ISO to 1600, opening up to f/2.8 and putting the flash on full power would, in theory, allow me to shoot over a distance of 60 metres in the same room, or an equivalent "round trip" bounce distance with a higher ceiling height.

    I'd summarise by saying that a diffuser cap is useful if the photographer is moving around a lot, and at fairly close range, but if the shooting position is distant and fixed, a carefully aimed bounce can give both a better quality of light and slightly more of it.
  14. I don't recall ever shooting a social event (including wedding receptions) with a flash at a distance of 20 feet, much less 60 meters. Three to eight feet would be more typical, mostly of two or three people, or a grip and grab presentation. I shoot formal wedding groups with a flash on a stand with a soft box or large umbrella. Using direct light of any sort at 20 feet or more guarantees red-eye. The angle off-camera is actually more important than the size of the diffuser at 20 feet and up.

    The flash dome works especially well at a family gathering, at a dinner table for example. It fills the entire room with light so that you can't really tell a flash is being used. Those at the far end of the table get the same light as those closest. For an overview in really large room, I use available light. Even a 1000 joule flash won't cover a large room evenly.

    I shoot plenty of concerts (symphony) at long distance, typically 75 to 100 feet (e.g., Symphony Center, Chicago), with available light. If you have heard of S log 3 gamma, that's the kind of situation it's used.
  15. "Three to eight feet would be more typical, mostly of two or three people, or a grip and grab presentation."

    - Ah! Walkie-snap. Isn't that exactly the situation I said a diffuser cap was useful for? But that's not the be-all and end-all of event work. The OP was asking about photography of podium speakers at a distance, and that's completely different.

    "Even a 1000 joule flash won't cover a large room evenly."

    - It doesn't have to. It only needs to light the subject(s) of the picture. Lighting a whole room is pointless if the camera can only view half of it at most.

    " If you have heard of S log3 gamma, that's the kind of situation it's used."

    - Huh! What's the gamma curve got to do with lighting an event? It's no substitute for not having enough light for a decent picture, and in no way improves the quality of available light.
    Last edited: Oct 27, 2017
  16. To make better use of available light, especially for video but can be applied to still photos too.

    The "walkie-snap" situation you describe pays the bills. It's a little more involved than that, but I charge for that information ;)

    I would not use a flash for a speaker at a podium. That is a formula for red-eye, and disturbing to both the speaker and his audience. There is almost always enough light on a speaker to use available light only. In fact, the speaker will be overexposed unless you take a spot reading and/or test shots. I shoot into the audience itself for establishment shots, and there is usually barely enough light there to read a program.

Share This Page