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In the Shooting with Wireless Flash series, award-winning photographer Jim Sugar demonstrates his approach to using off-camera flash in a variety of lighting scenarios, sharing practical tips along the way.
In this installment, Jim shows how to shoot outdoors during twilight, what photographers refer to as the magic hour. He goes on location to create an exterior photo of a busy pizzeria, employing five wireless strobes strategically placed both inside the building and on its exterior.
His approach to lighting the scene involves balancing all of the scene’s light sources—the twilight from the sky, the interior light of the pizzeria, the existing lights on the outside of the building, and the output of his strobes—in such a way that the final photo doesn’t appear to have any special lighting at all. He demonstrates a variety of inexpensive lighting tools—clamps, gels, and other light modifiers—to accomplish this goal.
Also discussed is the importance of planning and setting up ahead of time to maximize shooting time when the light is waning. The course wraps up with tips on planning for gear, estimating the amount of time available to shoot, shooting in manual mode, and using a camera's histogram to judge exposure.
Okay, I've taken this camera. This is again a Nikon D3S. We have on the top an SU-800 trigger. The PocketWizard is very, very similar. There is a Canon device, an SDE 2, which again is very, very similar. And what this is going to do is put out a signal when I press the shutter release and it's going to fire all these strobes simultaneously if we've done it properly. So the first thing I'm going to do here is I'm just going to do a test and see if the strobes fire.
Now what I need to do is double-check and make sure that the lights inside the restaurant are also going off. The strobes have been placed in such a way that these strobes have a sensor in them and it will see the signal put out by this SU-800, the two strobes inside the restaurant will see the lights, because these are aimed at 45 degree angles, they are crossing to each other. We're talking about the technology of making all this fire. So the strobes inside should see the strobes outside.
If I can just make one of these fire, and in fact, I can make two of them fire, then I can make all four of them fire. That one is going off, and that one should be going off. There are a couple things going on right here. When the sun hits the horizon, most people think that they are going to shoot a sunset picture, they are going to shoot a silhouette and when the sun hits the horizon, they are finished. In my world when the sun hits the horizon, that's my time to go to work.
If any of you remember the movie Beetlejuice with Michael Keaton, there was a great scene in that movie where he said, "Show time!" So this is my show time right now. So when that sun hits the horizon that's when I get really, really busy, because I know that the sky is going to go darker and I know that the light in the front of the restaurant is going to get relatively brighter and I know that my strobes are going to get relatively brighter. So I've got one set of lights coming down and I've got another set of lights that are constant, but they are going to appear to get brighter.
In fact, the light on the strobe, while I can modify them a little bit, the light on the strobe doesn't change, but it's going to appear to change, because the ratios between the sky and the strobes and the signs on the front of the restaurant are going to change, in relative terms. Let's see if we've got it right. So now I'm trying to take a classic picture of this pizzaria, and so I'm aligning the photograph up pretty straight.
I'm trying to keep my own reflection out of this window here, so I've got the camera and myself right behind a brace in the window. So I know that my reflection is not going to be in the window. So we've got everything lined up real straight. So the first thing I'm going to do is just to see that everything is firing and that it all looks good. So I align the camera up and this is a Nikon D3S camera. It's got a 24-70 millimeter lens on it. A medium focal length zoom and right now I'm at about 26 or 27 millimeters.
One other detail that we've done is we're backed up on the sidewalk here in Ventura in such a way that we're out of traffic, because getting hit by a car would just absolutely ruin the whole thing. So we've chosen the lens very carefully to be able to shoot from the sidewalk and to move the camera in as close as we can to the pizzeria and make it all work, and it's a relatively straight composition. At the same time, we checked things out.
We know that the lights on the top of the restaurant they are solar-powered. They are going to come on in just a couple of minutes, which is going to be terrific. They are going to light up the pizzaria sign. So we're anticipating that that light is going to come on in just a few minutes. And again, we're trying to get everything in balance, so that it all looks like it's just a completely natural straight shot. In fact, we've massaged it very carefully. We have some elements of taking a picture, we have some elements of making a picture, and that's what the drill is for right now.
So let's just see if it all works. Fantastic! Okay, so now I'm shooting the camera in Manual mode, M. By shooting the camera in Manual I can separate the aperture part of the photo from the shutter speed part of the photo. The aperture part of the photo 5, 6, 8, 11, 16, that is going to control the amount of light that the strobe puts out in what's called TTL or Through-The-Lens.
The manual part of the photo, the shutter speed part, controls the sky. So if I want to take the sky down in terms of exposure, I dial in and I go to a faster shutter speed. So it's this interplay of shutter speed and f-stop, and I can make the sky go relatively darker. In other words, I'm controlling the ratio between what the strobes are putting out and what the lens is recording on the shutter speed side.
So as I go through the viewfinder, I can see these two sets of exposures. I could also do the same thing by setting the camera in Aperture mode, A. And it's called A on both Nikons and Canons. So on the Canon it's called AV, but in both cases it's Aperture mode. So I can use that as a way of checking these two types of exposures. So let me try it again.
And I can see that this light is a little bit too bright, I need to move it over just a little. So I'm going to make a couple of small adjustments. I'm going to turn that light down just a little, and I want to move it up under the awning so it's not showing quite so much, and I'm going to aim it in this direction just a little bit more. And I'm going to do the same with that one over there. There is a beautiful bicycle over here. We're going to take the bike because it's a great prop. I want to take the bike and move it into the front of the pizzaria. So I need to make about three or four changes. It takes me a couple of minutes.
This is completely normal when you get to this part of the process, because you get the basic pieces in place, the strobes in place, the lens, the shutter speed, the f-stop, and then inevitably when you look at the LCD on the back of the camera you can see that there is a few details that need some fine-tuning. So right now we're going to fine-tune those details. Okay, come with me. I'll show you what I'm doing.
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