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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.
So we've got this great speeder bike, a cruiser. And we're going to -- we've got the owner's permission and we're going to put it on the front of the Pizzaria because we can. And it's an absolutely terrific iconic American bicycle and it just makes it really great prop for the front of the store. So now we've got that in place, I want to do a couple more things. I want to move this light just a little bit and I want to move that light a little. Now one of the things I can see is that the inside of the awning or this overhang is white.
So I can do the same thing with this right now that I just did with the umbrella. Rather than shining it directly on the subject, I can bounce this light into the overhang. And by doing that, I take the origin of the light, the strobehead, and I bounce it into this white reflecting material, and the entire awning will become source of the light. So that's going to create a very large diffused wraparound light source on the front of Tony's Pizzaria.
And you take a tiny area and you make it bigger. When I looked at the LED on the back of the camera, I could see from the Histogram that the basic exposure was good. So I know that my basic exposure is proper. But this side of the restaurant was too bright. By taking it and moving it up into this awning or overhang, I not only take it down a little because it's not going to be as bright, but I'm also diffusing it. So in making just by doing this one move, I'm making a tremendous change in the quality of the image.
And the quality of the image is the softness or wraparound quality. And because we just put this bicycle here, now we have really soft light on the bike. So we've got Tony there and he is working like crazy, and we've got lights in place and we get real, real close. Let's do the same thing for the other side.
Okay, so we've got this beautiful bike in front of the pizzaria and we've just bounced light into this overhang. But if I can put another light right down here just slightly out of the picture, and Nikon gives you this really cute plastic foot, I can just put it on the ground right here. So every time I can add another element, another strobe, it gives the picture an extra dimension. So here we've put this particular strobe from Nikon, comes with an orange gel.
Again, it's a CTO Gel (Color Temperature Orange), and it's on a little foot, it's right there, and this will be just out of the picture because the edge of the building is the edge of the frame. So if I put it here and I aim it at a real severe angle and aim it at that wheel, I know that it's going to give me some definition on the front of the bike. It's just going to define it just a little bit. It's going to give it a texture. It's just a tiny little detail. But that's what this kind of photography is all about, is paying attention to the details and making it all work.
Okay, let's see if it works. So we've got a couple of things happening now. Just by making a few very small changes, we've got all the lights firing. But now the light up on the top has just come on. It's hooked to a solar detector. So in a second, I'm going to have the light of the pizzaria, the sign get brighter because that light just came on. So now I'm going to bracket the photograph a little.
I've got the camera set on Manual and I can bracket the shutter speed, which is going to make the sky relatively lighter and darker. And by adjusting the f-stop or the aperture, the camera should be putting out a constant light source in TTL. But I can change the ratios between these two sources. Let's see if this works. Tony! So the one setting on the camera,it's really important that I see is the Histogram.
And the Histogram will tell me that I've got a good exposure. And because I know I'm going to take this image and pass it through a computer and adjust it in Photoshop, if I'm getting a good Histogram right here, which I am. The image is going all the way across the gradient here and it's going to give me a good exposure. At this point, we're making lots of little adjustments. We're tweaking the image, we're dialing things down or up, we're moving strobes a little bit to the left or to the right, and this is really normal.
We've taken this camera and we've organized everything, cleaned up all the details in front of the pizzaria, including adding this bike because it's a great prop. And we've added five strobes in the photo, two in these awnings, in this overhang, one on the side of the pizzaria, which we later moved inside to light Tony brighter. Another one, we took a strobe and bounced it into an umbrella, which took a tiny little source and made it bigger, so we've done that multiple times.
And we took one more light and we aimed it at the doorway right here. None of these lights are straight on. Every light is directional. And almost every light has a diffusion element in it of some fashion which makes the light softer and more diffused and more pleasing and more pleasant. And the one thing that's happening right now and as I look at the sky, the sky is almost completely black, but we've shot all the way through it. And by shooting all the way through it, as the sky goes darker, darker, darker, darker, darker, the sun is probably now about 20 degrees below the horizon and the sky is almost completely black.
The lights of the building and the lights of the strobe in relative terms have become brighter into the photograph. And as we get these elements together and we adjust that by putting the camera in Manual mode and adjusting the shutter speed and moving the shutter speed up and down which gives us a little more or a little less light in the sky and the exposure from the strobes is controlled by the aperture part of the picture.
And that's giving us a constant output because of the TTL or Through-The-Lens quality of these images. And we've done all of it without a single wire in the picture. It's been wireless TTL, and it's been relatively seamless. And that's been the drill of taking all these elements and bringing them all together.
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