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You can only take one photo ........

Discussion in 'General flash photography, lighting, and technique' started by Desmond, Aug 13, 2008.

  1. ok , I decided to post under this section because it moves a bit slower than the 'general' section .

    1.) Short version : You are at a location waiting for someone to arrive to take a picture of them , you have 5 minutes to play with , you have to get the correct exposure in the first picture - how do you approach that ?

    2.) Long version : Someone asked me to take a few family shots when they were all dressed up , I went outside and found a nice wall in the shade with some side lighting coming in [ D70S ] . The wall was quite bright , after a few minutes they came outside , four of them and got into position . "Click" , I look at the screen and it looks to be underexposed a bit [ I had the flash on -1.7 TTL .] . I look up , they are all staring at me and smiling , as usual panic sets in so I dial in +1 and take another shot - still looks a bit under exposed [ technically not really but I was trying to get it right without having to edit later and adjust levels ] , I look up at them again , all smiling back at me and the adrenalin tells me to adjust the flash to zero compensation [ the "+1" EV of the camera ups that again as well ] , I take another shot , a few more portrait mode and when I look at the pictures later there are huge flash shadows behind them and bright flashed eyes .
    Now most of this is about panic when things don't look right . I could [should ]have kept the original settings and adjusted later but as soon as panic sets in I get irrational . I have "Understanding exposure " on order , should be here tomorrow but was wondering '' how do you make sure it is right in the first shot "? .
    I am slowly moving over to manual so what would be the approach there :
    Set exposure off the back of my hand in that light and keep that setting manually so I can make fine adjustments without affecting flash ?
    Grey card ? There must be a sure-fire method of getting it right in camera when the light is constant and you have some time before the subjects arrive .
  2. cwilt


    Apr 24, 2005
    Denver, CO
    There are many ways.

    Back of your hand and grey card. Grass and clear blue sky can be used too. Light meter works well. With experience you can get very close with a guess.
  3. ok , BUT : this weekend I tried the blue sky test and it worked very well for the subjects in bright sunlight but the shadow areas were underexposed . The pictures with some side sunllight and mainly shadows looked quite good but when I did a reading off the sky and took a picture in total shade [ exposed to the blue sky though ] it all looked underexposed . Maybe a reading off the grass in the shade ?
  4. Looks like this will be a very good thread, will keep an eye on this one.
  5. Feel free to add your knowledge and/or questions .
  6. you could find someone to 'stand in' so you have the right settings before the subjects appear, in general though your 'long version' of the story is more abt experiance / confidence,. there is no panic required as you adjust,.

    if you are really in position 1,. where only one shot can be taken then set the camera up and shoot raw,. that way you can rescue the image a bit if required

    also in that 5 minutes you should spend the time 'finding the light',. know where to put the subject to make getting a good exposure possible

    if in doubt I would personally do something like,. camera in manual exposure (and matrix meter) then meter the sky and have it around 1 stop under,. put flash on ittl and dial in ~minus 2/3 flash comp then put the subjects back to the sun (if there was nowhere with open shade etc and the sun was quite stong).. works most times
  7. jfrancis


    May 8, 2005
    Orlando, FL
    Manual mode - meter wall and set exposure accordingly, making sure SS was 1/250 or less and that aperture can cope with DOF required. Maybe even underexpose wall by a stop if bright. Set flash in TTL, focus on group and shoot.
  8. cwilt


    Apr 24, 2005
    Denver, CO
    You must meter the light that your subject will be in. Also must consider that flash can be main or fill. If you have not already I would suggest reading the strobist blog. Thats the type of situation the he teaches you to cope with.
  9. I've got a pretty good idea about flash , in this particular case it was meant to be fill since there were no harsh shadows - maybe just to add catchlights to their eyes . I think maybe my expectations were just too high about having things perfect in camera since I could have easily done PP later . Subconsciously I was expecting to see professional looking results with the flash added outdoors which I have never played with much and when I didn't see that the nerves kicked in , the first picture wasn't that bad .

    Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)

    Still , if I ever had to buy a D90 and it's metering is as bad as the D80 was I would know in advance it is going to blow everything when black clothing is involved and I would probably now know to meter off my hand from the left of this picture where the light is coming from and set accoringly .[right?]
  10. This was where I decided the best light was and also out of the freezing wind . RAW is a safe backup but not the way to learn correct exposure if you always have 1 stop either way to 'rescue' yourself , but a good idea when the shot really counts . In this case the sky was no part of the picture and the light was a lot more subdued than sunlight but that method worked for me when I tried it on Sunday and the subjects were in the sun but not when they were in total shade [ with open sky still though ] .
  11. LynnTX


    Jun 23, 2008
    One shot?

    I can see how that situation would make you a little nervous when you look down and the LCD picture does not look very good.

    In my experience, a little underexposure is not a bad thing. I shoot mostly in JPEG and even rudimentary processing software makes it quite easy to use "fill light" to correct for underexposed people etc. I would think that picture was pretty easy to PP until it looked pretty good.

    I have had pretty good succes with a little change like that even in the free Picasa program. I was recently shooting a lot of pics in a hospital enviornment when my preemie twin grandkids were born. I had to use fill light on just about everything I took, and was surprised how well they looked after some pretty minimal processing.

    Good luck on your future photography efforts,

  12. Thanks for your input - I guess I just paniced a bit when the picture on the screen was not what I had envisioned with the amount of time I had to 'meditate' while waiting - perhaps that was the problem , having too much time to raise expectations before taking the shot - then the results wren't what I expected . Also this was really the first time testing fill flash on 'live' subjects outdoors and the results [ obviously ] looked so different from indoor tests that it was a bit of a shock . I think a lot of it was psychological .
    Anyway my copy of "understanding exposure " arrived today and I'm busy devouring it .
  13. I thought for a while about this one and the results would be very different depending on extremes like a white wall or a black wall . If it was a bright wall it would underexpose anyway so underexposing another stop for a bright wall would really darken things up .
    I think so far the best solution appears to be to meter off the back of my hand with the dominant light on it . As I get confident with manual I could get used to metering off the subject's face .
    I will do some tests and get used to the histogram that my " hand exposure" generates .
  14. jfrancis


    May 8, 2005
    Orlando, FL
    Only if you are thinking of the flash as fill. The TTL flash takes care of the subject exposure and would in fact become the main light, and the one stop underexposure on the bright wall would just allow them to pop.

    I agree that if the wall was black, things would be different (and I would not have suggested this technique).
  15. But the primary use of fill flash is to soften harsh shadows. Since there were none in this case, you were actually using the flash as the main light for the subjects, and the soft ambient light for fill. That's a good plan, but setting the main light (flash) at -1.7ev left the family underexposed, and then you were undone because your attention turned to technical issues rather than portraiture.

    The bright wall you chose as your background created several problems for you.
    • You needed to mute it so it wouldn't compete with the subjects. The solution would be to set up to underexpose it, and then use your flash to properly expose the subjects. It's a classical exercise in narrowing the dynamic range of a scene.
    • The wall was very contrasty, so it could easily steal the camera's focus. The solution would be to use a wide aperture to increase the selective focus of your lens. In this case, you used f/7.1, but had f/4.3 available.
    • If your subjects were positioned close to the wall, light from a flash would project harsh shadows on it. The solution would be to move the subjects further from the wall. That would help to throw the wall out of focus as well.
  16. Since noone mentioned it, a stand alone light meter would have told you what the correct exposure should have been regardless of what there are wearing.


  17. jfrancis


    May 8, 2005
    Orlando, FL
    Bingo - that's exactly what I've been saying.
  18. jfrancis


    May 8, 2005
    Orlando, FL
    True, but then the wall would be very overexposed. As Frank said, this is a dynamic range issue for the camera, and the flash is an easy way to deal with it. Since the BG is very bright, you have to expose for that (ambient) and then light the subjects to match it (preferably with a stop difference). If it had been a dark wall (and you still wanted detail) then you could have metered the subjects and added light to the BG.
  19. hensil


    Jan 19, 2007
    Abu Dhabi - UAE
    Hi Desmond,
    In panic situation one can make silly mistakes. One of them is to adjust the camera exposure compensation when flash exposure compensation is needed or vice versa. Usually when shooting portraits in out door bright light we may get higher shutter speed than 1/500 (D70) at wide open aperture of f/4 or f/2.8 to blur the background. In this situation the flash will over expose the subject. You will neutral density filter to reduce the ambient light to get the shutter less than 1/500.
    In your situation you were shooting in shade so the shutter speed won't be a problem. Its always better to keep an eye on the shutter speed. In this situation what I would do is shoot in manual exposure. I would meter my hand in the same lighting and set the shutter<1/500 and aperture and set the flash at -1.75. If if you have tripod check with a self portrait before your client arrives.
  20. From the photo that he posted, no chance that the wall would be "very" overexposed.

    And if it is, so what. Expose for the faces. I'm not even sure that flash was needed for this shot.


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