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10-24-2016, 07:21 AM   #1
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softening flash light with ambient lighting

I am trying to learn flash. If I use a flash outside and mix it with ambient light, how do I prevent hard shadows created by the flash that may go across the body from an arm or hands ( for example)? I assume use a softbox, but would that be practical for an event? I also have read to remove the flash and hold it with your hand and move it around to find the best angle using a trigger. I do have a set of cactus v6 triggers. I am trying to understand how to diffuse the light if I can't bounce. I have read mixed opinions of using things like Gary Fong type diffusers.

10-24-2016, 08:33 AM   #2
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Getting the flash off camera is a MUST. You want to be able to fill shadows from the sun. If you just shoot straight on, you simply fill both sun lit areas as well as the shadow. It does almost nothing in the end. Perhaps slightly better than nothing, but not as useful as moving the flash to the proper angle.

A relatively larger light is always helpful for diffusing light. Sadly it comes at a cost of distributing output across that larger area and thus decreasing its apparent power on the subject. So you may want/need a soft box with more than one flash head in it.
The bigger the better, but how much can you carry to the location and how much money do you have?
At some point you're going to have to go with battery powered studio strobes if you want a lot of diffused flash in bright sunlight and a band of assistants to carry it all.


What type of event?
You're likely going to want an assistant if subjects are moving at the event. Otherwise you're moving a weighted down light stand (even a mild wind catches umbrellas and softboxes incredibly well). A soft box of most any useful size is going to be difficult to handle hand-held by yourself.

I have a 24"x24" soft box for my flash. It is a good compromise on size. It is still small but works well within a few feet with one or even two flash heads taped together and remains more mobile. One can use it hand-held if necessary.

These small softboxes for off-camera flash can run hundreds of dollars from top name brands. But you can also find them on Amazon for under $40.

I picked up this one and it seems decent. At least it is a good start to see what works without breaking the bank.
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As a side note: With Pentax, unlike other brands, you are limited to the shutter sync speed of 1/180s. So if you are trying to balance the sky, you will likely need to make sure to use High Speed Sync. This cuts the effective power of your flash. So a second flash head is a good idea. There is no hyper-sync
The new cactus V6-II trigger is great for HSS implementation. The older V6 never worked well for me.

---------- Post added 10-24-16 at 11:43 AM ----------

FYI, something like this even works just as well but much cheaper than the Gary Fong stuff.

A Better Bounce Card LARGE

If you're even only a little bit crafty, you can make your own with some white foam sheets from the craft store for under $2. I have one almost permanently attached to my flash. Its about 16 times the size of the flash head itself so it is softer at close range. (doesn't do much at a distance -- and neither will Gary Fong or any other tiny little diffuser)
This one works better indoors so some light bounces off the ceiling, as a good portion of light goes straight up.

Last edited by amoringello; 10-24-2016 at 08:44 AM.
10-24-2016, 08:51 AM   #3
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QuoteOriginally posted by amoringello Quote
Getting the flash off camera is a MUST. You want to be able to fill shadows from the sun. If you just shoot straight on, you simply fill both sun lit areas as well as the shadow. It does almost nothing in the end. Perhaps slightly better than nothing, but not as useful as moving the flash to the proper angle.

A relatively larger light is always helpful for diffusing light. Sadly it comes at a cost of distributing output across that larger area and thus decreasing its apparent power on the subject. So you may want/need a soft box with more than one flash head in it.
The bigger the better, but how much can you carry to the location and how much money do you have?
At some point you're going to have to go with battery powered studio strobes if you want a lot of diffused flash in bright sunlight and a band of assistants to carry it all.


What type of event?
You're likely going to want an assistant if subjects are moving at the event. Otherwise you're moving a weighted down light stand (even a mild wind catches umbrellas and softboxes incredibly well). A soft box of most any useful size is going to be difficult to handle hand-held by yourself.

I have a 24"x24" soft box for my flash. It is a good compromise on size. It is still small but works well within a few feet with one or even two flash heads taped together and remains more mobile. One can use it hand-held if necessary.

These small softboxes for off-camera flash can run hundreds of dollars from top name brands. But you can also find them on Amazon for under $40.

I picked up this one and it seems decent. At least it is a good start to see what works without breaking the bank.
Michael Collins - Dude really just kicked him off | Facebook


As a side note: With Pentax, unlike other brands, you are limited to the shutter sync speed of 1/180s. So if you are trying to balance the sky, you will likely need to make sure to use High Speed Sync. This cuts the effective power of your flash. So a second flash head is a good idea. There is no hyper-sync
The new cactus V6-II trigger is great for HSS implementation. The older V6 never worked well for me.
Right now, while I am understanding how to use flash, I am just using my old nikon d200 and the sb-800 flash, so I can get HSS (although also reading pros and cons with using a nd filter) I have the pentax k3 and the cactus v6 triggers to, which work but only in manual for the nikon flash. (I think)

The events are unpaid volunteer events, probably could only talk my kids into helping, so just looking to get pictures nice looking while learning what I am doing (and they are aware that event photography is a new for me). I noticed while I was using the flash, I focused on a gentleman's hands as he was giving a demonstration and I saw the flash cast a shadow of his hands and arms across his shirt. So I was trying to figure out if that is something that is acceptable or how to fix that, while not having to carry a soft box around. Though I understand using for portraits, the event I happened to photograph was across different parts of a working farm, some events were inside of a dark barn, some were outside in the shade, and I was moving across the areas while demonstrations and reenactments (not sure that is the right word) were going on. They were using old farm equipment, cooking over a hearth, etc.
10-24-2016, 09:04 AM   #4
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For event shooting you will probably need to keep the flash on the camera out of convenience. In a situation like that I would put the flash on the camera or if I have one, a flash bracket that moves it a little farther from the lens.
I'd also put a diffuser of some kind on it. Maybe a Stofen type or a mini softbox that gives just a little more surface area to the light source.
Whenever possible, bounce the flash off a wall or ceiling for more evenly distributed light. When bouncing try removing the diffuser for more power.

Also keep in mind the flash may not be ideal for every shot so remember to turn it off for a softly lit scene like cooking over a hearth. There may be nice natural light from the fire in a shot like that and flash would overpower it.

Use the flash to fill in hard shadows as needed but don't use it as your primary light if you can avoid it. This will give more natural looking shots.

10-24-2016, 11:52 AM   #5
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Here's a good resource: Strobist
10-24-2016, 12:42 PM   #6
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QuoteOriginally posted by johnyates Quote
Here's a good resource: Strobist
Yes I read his class once, takes a while for it all to sink in though. I will have to reread.
10-24-2016, 11:20 PM   #7
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If you are outside, you can use just enough flash power to provide some light to the face and add a sparkle to the eyes. You can leave the flash on the camera without harsh shadows. The most effective way to do this is probably shoot in the shade, and aim for a 1-stop reduction in the amount of ambient light. So, ideally, without the flash, aim for settings that underexpose the subject about a stop in the shade and then use a minimal amount of flash (probably around 1/32-1/128 power depending on distance and flash) and there shouldn't be many shadows. You can often get good shots in the shade even without a flash. In this case try to get the subject to stare at something moderately bright (light a white wall closeby) which will help improve the catchlights.

If you want the severely underexposed backgrounds, or shooting in the sun (say as a backlight near sunset time) then an umbrella/softbox is necessary for very soft light.

Getting your flash off camera isn't too hard: you can start with a basic light stand - even without an umbrella or softbox this will help. You can add in a quick setup softbox and it's still fairly portable. Umbrellas are difficult outside if it's windy.

An alternative technique to lift shadows is to bring a reflector.
10-24-2016, 11:53 PM   #8
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QuoteOriginally posted by amoringello Quote
Getting the flash off camera is a MUST.
+1, getting your flash off camera is critical for achieving natural lighting.

10-25-2016, 08:22 AM   #9
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For reference, this was an example of what I was talking about, the shadow on his shirt from his hands. He was giving a demonstration in the shade.
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10-25-2016, 04:38 PM   #10
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QuoteOriginally posted by Murfy Quote
For reference, this was an example of what I was talking about, the shadow on his shirt from his hands. He was giving a demonstration in the shade.
You would have to fill in from below to do that from the same angle, Murfy.

It can be a reflector catching the first flash.

Google 'Clamshell lighting' for the concept of eliminating shadows under objects such as the nose, eye sockets, or hands in this case.

BTW, I think you missed the opportunity to get him to rotate 45 degrees and get some nice side lighting to make the scene 3D!
10-26-2016, 04:23 AM   #11
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QuoteOriginally posted by clackers Quote
You would have to fill in from below to do that from the same angle, Murfy.

It can be a reflector catching the first flash.

Google 'Clamshell lighting' for the concept of eliminating shadows under objects such as the nose, eye sockets, or hands in this case.

BTW, I think you missed the opportunity to get him to rotate 45 degrees and get some nice side lighting to make the scene 3D!
I had a lot more photos, I walked around him. I just showed this one for the shadow example This one is out of focus and you can't see the tool at all, so it was a toss away and wasn't given to anyone, but you can see the shadow really well, which is what I want to learn how to avoid.
10-26-2016, 02:47 PM   #12
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QuoteOriginally posted by Murfy Quote
I had a lot more photos, I walked around him. I just showed this one for the shadow example This one is out of focus and you can't see the tool at all, so it was a toss away and wasn't given to anyone, but you can see the shadow really well, which is what I want to learn how to avoid.
Sure, and either you do avoid it with positioning the subject in a different way (with a portrait against a wall, you can ask them to step away from it, for example) or you fill it in.

Indoors, the point of something like a Fong diffuser (turns your unidirectional flash into a light globe) is that the shadow is filled in by reflections off all the other surfaces in a room.
11-13-2016, 07:29 PM   #13
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in the past I used a softbox mounted on a monopod with wireless triggers. I would put the softbox (using the speedlight) at an angle holding it with one hand and using the camera with the other. better yet if you had an assistant
I had a Gary fong but never got much use out of it so I sold it. bouncing the light off of something (even a reflector) works much better.
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11-19-2016, 05:39 AM   #14
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QuoteOriginally posted by Murfy Quote
I am trying to learn flash. If I use a flash outside and mix it with ambient light, how do I prevent hard shadows created by the flash that may go across the body from an arm or hands ( for example)? I assume use a softbox, but would that be practical for an event? I also have read to remove the flash and hold it with your hand and move it around to find the best angle using a trigger. I do have a set of cactus v6 triggers. I am trying to understand how to diffuse the light if I can't bounce. I have read mixed opinions of using things like Gary Fong type diffusers.
This does not address your question, however, just in case you didn't know at times the built in flash can do the triggering. With my k5 and 540 FGZ, the built in flash acts as the trigger for using 540 wireless.
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