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Outdoor portraits with fill flash and small apertures. How?

Discussion in 'General flash photography, lighting, and technique' started by tfboy, Sep 1, 2008.

  1. tfboy


    Aug 22, 2008
    Berkshire, UK
    I've been to a couple of weddings over the past few weekends assisting (there was a pro toger there so no stress to worry about!).

    But I'm having great difficulty getting correctly exposed portrait images. I was thinking of using the sb-900 as a fill flash to give a bit of light on foreheads which are traditionally in the shade thanks to the weddings hats.

    But in all my attempts, I always end up with massively overblown shots.

    If I have a very stopped down aperture, then it's more or less OK, but if I want to shoot wide open to get a better bokeh, that's when all the shots turn out horrible.

    Without the flash, it's more or less OK, so I guess adding the flash changes some settings in the camera. The flash certaintly appears to fire with moderately low power, providing a nice light to the eye.

    I think I need to use the FP feature which I believe allows you to use faster shutter speeds and / or flash speeds (= low power) ?

    Using a D700 + 85mm f/1.4D + SB-900

    Any guidance would be most appreciated.

    TIA :) 
  2. PeterRH

    PeterRH Guest

    This is one of those situations where you need to choose what will work best for your own peace-of-mind.

    Some are very happy with using neutral density filters to bring down the shutter speed to maintain sync speeds within the normal maximum settings and then using TTL flash to control the results.

    Personally I can't abide anything which prevents me seeing as clearly as possible through the viewfinder, and I generally go for FP settings but keeping the flash on manual power for this kind of work.

    To do this means you setting up a test-shoot outdoors on a bright day (or just crank up the ISO until you get the higher shutter speeds you would encounter) with a dummy subject at a few subject to camera distances that you would normally employ with your chosen lens/es.

    Set up the camera with aperture priority and FP mode on the flash and cam, firing the flash with your higher-than-max sync shutter speed until you get the result you want.

    Sounds like a hassle but it takes only about 30 minutes to run through the settings and once you've done it you can then easily set up the shot and adapt to fit the circumstances. Even easier for the experiment to work if you have a flash meter.

    If that sounds like too much work, you can run the same experiment using the flash on TTL (I'd suggest avoiding TTL-BL as it gives horribly inconsistent results) and FP mode and again observe what settings work best at normal shooting distances.

    For important event shoots though I highly recommend getting to know what your flash will do on manual, and shooting NEF rather than jpeg to recover from error on the day.

    Does that help?
  3. tfboy


    Aug 22, 2008
    Berkshire, UK
    Hi Peter. Thanks for your reply, most helpful :) 

    I was wondering about ND filters, but as you say, it's a hassle not being able to see so clearly through the viewfinder, and also the fact you need to put them on / take them off which takes time in a fast-paced wedding.

    I guess experimenting is the key.

    Is it just me, or is there no clear explanation of what all the acronyms such as BL, FP, TTL, etc mean. There's no explicit description in the manuals, to the point you wonder if it's just a marketing term and not a technical one!
  4. PeterRH

    PeterRH Guest

    I think the manufacturers like to assume that we've all read everything they print to become acquainted with the terms. And there are a few good guides out there such as those from Thom Hogan who de-mystify flash for the uninitiated.

    And yes I recommend experimentation, with digital it is easy if you take just a little time. Particularly important when it comes to FP flash settings - yes there are guide no's and you can work it out or carry a flashmeter (and I admit I carry a flashmeter to be safe), but nothing beats knowing what your combo will do in practice.

    As you say, events such as weddings are fast-paced and you often don't have the luxury of trying a variety of approaches on the day.

    Good luck with this.
  5. PeterRH

    PeterRH Guest

    I moved this reply here to avoid hi-jacking the other thread which was obviously happening.

    Only that you need to establish first what kind of 'look' you are going for or that you really like.

    For example (no surprise for you given our discussion elsewhere) I prefer to use manual exposure on the camera where this 'inside/outside' situation appears - the matrix metering is great but just a small shift in position can throw it out, and I like consistent results.

    So I tend to dial in the camera somewhere between 0ev to -1ev from the reading I get from the external source depending on the general look I'm after

    Then I'll leave the flash on TTL auto and dial in -0.3ev to -0.7ev where I'm shifting position a lot, especially if I'm trying to avoid it looking like flash was a dominant part of the scene.

    Where I'm not moving around a lot I'll switch the flash to manual and use a setting I know has worked on previous shoots or take a quick flashmeter reading.

    Examples of trying to avoid flash-like-look are below - NOTE none of these would have used the FP settings as they were not required for the ambient conditions:


    And one where I went for slightly more drama, even allowing the sun to create flare:

    Just found a couple of indoor/outdoor shots I did for automotive website/brochure:

    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 1, 2008
  6. I don't have much experience with digital and fill flash. But my Nikon F5 and SB28 have worked wonderfully for me in the past, all shots perfectly exposed. The fill flash systems are the same. Are you sure your camera and flash settings are correct?
  7. Since switching to Nikon I haven't done this yet, but the way I achieved the look below, was to meter off the grass, and then let the flash fill in the rest. I had the flash in ETTL HSS mode (Metz MZ-3 on EOS 10D or 20D)

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  8. I have not read everything above but I am sure you got some good advise. Let me just share a few thoughts with you. First of all the duration of a flash is very short (fast) and so shutter speed has no impact on the amount of flash reaching the subject. Knowing that and if you are outdoors in sunlight, set your shutter speed at the sync speed of your camera, for me that is 1/250 of a second. Next, meter the ambient light and adjust it with your aperture control until it reads -1 on the cameras meter (camera on manual). Now with your flash mode on TTL take a picture and see how the subject looks. Raise or lower the flash level by using the up and down arrow keys on your flash until you achieve the look you want.

    Now what you have accomplished with this is to make the background slightly darker than the subject (you did this with the aperture control). The flash has properly lit the subject and you have adjusted the amount of flash with the level control on the flash. You have not exceeded the sync speed of the camera because it was pre-set by you. After playing around with this method you can get more creative. You may also need an ND filter in some instances but the principles are the same. The good thing about trying this method is that you learn what controls what. There are other ways to accomplish the same thing (CLS as an example) but if using auto everything, you fail to learn what is happening and how the light is being controlled.
  9. PeterRH

    PeterRH Guest

    Gordon I believe we are talking about situations where the light is fairly bright but we want to use a wide aperture.

    Which means using ND's, as you point out, to make the shutter speed fall back to/below max sync speed, or the FP settings for flash control to allow usage of shorter duration shutter speeds beyond max sync.
  10. True, but I am trying to teach the member what effect the various controls have. He can then branch out from there with the use of ND filters or FP camera settings. I feel it is important that they first learn the basics so that they can then understand what is taking place and make intelligent decisions going forward. As you know the use of FP greatly reduces the amount of flash available and is not very effective in certain instances.
  11. PeterRH

    PeterRH Guest

    Never a truer word said!

    And I may well be at fault by assuming a level of experience.
  12. tfboy


    Aug 22, 2008
    Berkshire, UK
    Hi Sam. I think my problem was that I hadn't set the camera to FP, and even then, you're limited to 1/320th second shutter speed. And with the very bright amount of light, it was just way over exposed. I'll check again, but when set to aperture priority, the camera still shows metering for what would be without the flash, but then ignores that level and sticks it back to the sync speed defined as you say. Trouble is, with the amount of light, everything is blown way out. Of course, I could use a ND filter, but even then, I suppose I may still be limited by the sync speed unless I use a very dark ND filter which then makes using the viewfinder trickier.....

    I think I need to stick to manual more, do the exposure as I want it, chosing to use open aperture and superfast shutter speed and then just have the flash fire at low power to fill in the shadows. I'll have to play, but I hope that forcing everything to manual means the flash still won't override the shutter speed selected manually.

    I've been reading up on planetneil.com and his examples are fantastic, although I haven't read far enough yet to see if he covers my issue :) 

    edit: Thanks very much for your post, Gordon. It is helpful. I'll experiment, but I feel that setting the shutter speed to 1/250th would give me a far too closed aperture. Again, I'm new to this, and I fully agree that the real way to learn is to take control of everything manually so you (and not the camera) is deciding what settings to use so you can get understandable and therefore correctable and then hopefully accurate and repeatable results :smile:
  13. I don't think you are. From page 186 of the D700 manual. :wink:

    "Optional SB-900, SB-800 and SB-600 flash units support speeds of up
    to 1/8,000 s at settings of 1/320 s (Auto FP) or 1/250 s (Auto FP)."

  14. tfboy


    Aug 22, 2008
    Berkshire, UK
    Thanks Ronnie. :smile:

    I did just do a quick try with the built-in flash of course to see that as soon as I pop it up, the shutter speed falls back and I was thinking "noooooo!". But as you point out, fortunately, with an external flash, once in FP mode, it should be OK.

    Will have to play around and experiment - I know I keep saying that. Just need some time off work and a suitable subject willing to be photographed :biggrin:
  15. With fp mode you lose a lot of power because the flash is a bit like a machine gun being fired until one bullet hits the target . You will need to stay closer to the subject to see decent results . I was just explaining to someone the advantages of a D40/50/70S in that they have an electronic shutter besides the mechanical one that never fires faster than 1/125th so you can synch flash at any speed with the older flashes or any 3rd party flash that has one centre pin . I was at a rally last weekend and put my old SB24 on the D50 and 10-20mm lens at a fair distance from the cars . You can either slide a piece of paper under the rear flash pins or disconnect all but the centre pin .
    This way the camera doesn't know there is a flash but still triggers it . You have to input the iso and aperture manually and use "A" mode but you can get minimum power flash at 1/4000th sec shuter speed and up to 1/4 flash power at 1/2000th sec , 1/2 power at 1/1000th sec -. It seems the solution could be a D40 and SB24 for the outdoor work !

    F4.5 1/800th iso 200 .

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  16. PeterRH

    PeterRH Guest

    Given that the situation we're looking at here is a D700 + SB900, and event photography, experimentation at portrait/group shooting distances with FP should reveal a solution.

    The large formal group shots will be more of an issue but then the features of individual faces will be less important (not unimportant, just less so) and post-processing can help reveal with shadow/highlight tools.
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