Making the Most of one Flash [Case Study]

0Comments

A Guest Post by Dev Wijewardane.

Usually, to produce a well lit image of an object, photographers will need to use multiple artificial light sources. These light sources can be costly and may not be easily accessible for amateur photographers. However, in many cases, a single flash can be used to achieve the same results.

Things you will need

  • A flash (it is most effective if you can use it off camera)
  • Any light modifiers which you require – snoots, gobos, grid spots etc
  • A tripod
  • Post processing software

The Process

The first step in the process is to secure the camera to the tripod and compose the image. Once the image is composed, the tripod should NOT be moved until all the required images have been captured.

The first image to be captured should be the “base” exposure. In this example, I used a canon 430 EX at 1/8 power (I think??) to bounce the light off the ceiling and light the tiles, scrabble board and bag, evenly. A flash is not required to create the base exposure. The ambient light and a longer shutter speed will work just as well. If there are sections of the final image which you want to be left in shadow, make sure that they are in shadow on the base image. This is what will be used when producing the final version.

scrabble1a.jpg
Base exposure used in this example

The next step is to use the flash as a key light and light up sections of the image which you want to emphasize. In these shots, ensure that you ONLY light up these areas. The rest of the image should be in shadow.

In this example I wanted to use two key lights.

The first of these was a snooted flash fired from the same level as the tiles, from camera right. The strobe was very close to the tiles themselves as I only wanted to emphasize the edges of the tiles and didn’t want the key light to spill onto any other part of the image.

scrabble3a.jpg
Key light used to define the edges of the tiles

I wanted the second key light to light up the area under the bag (which was in shadow in the base exposure) and the top surface of the tiles. I used a snoot once more and fired the strobe from slightly above the camera from the right.

scrabble2a.jpg
Key light used to define the area under the bag and the top surface of the tiles

Follow this process and capture any other “key light” images that you require.
Once all the images have been captured they have to be merged together using a post processing software. When merging the images together, ensure that the brightest areas from each image are visible in the final version.

For those of you who use Photoshop, using a “star trails” action will cut down processing time significantly. There are plenty of free star trails actions which can be downloaded. Each of them will work differently but the end result should be the same. These actions generally stack images and allow the brightest parts of each image to be visible in the final version.The effect of the first key light is subtle in the final image produced in this example.

Scrabble-Final.jpg
Final image which was produced by merging the “base” image and the two “key” images

Limitations

This technique can only be used on stationary objects

Advantage

It only requires a single flash and light modifiers which can be made at home!PS – I’ve photographed a car using this technique. It took around 10 shots but it worked like a charm.

Dev Wijewardane is a serious amateur photographer based in Sydney. He currently works in the IT industry and his photographic interests include wildlife, landscape and portrait photography. See more of his work on his blog and flickr account.

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  • Interesting technique.

  • Interesting… So this is similar basically like taking and processing an HDR then? Rather than adjusting the camera settings you are adjusting the external lighting. Interesting to look at it from this perspective!

    And week two finalists have just been posted for my photo contest. Check them out. There is still one week left to enter!
    Cabin Fever in Vermont Photo Contest

  • Interesting… So this is similar basically like taking and processing an HDR then? Rather than adjusting the camera settings you are adjusting the external lighting. Interesting to look at it from this perspective!

    And week two finalists have just been posted for my photo contest. Check them out. There is still one week left to enter!
    Cabin Fever in Vermont Photo Contest

  • This is an interesting technique. I prefer to use more lights, but that’s not what this post is about.

    In order to cut down on cost for people needing more than one direction for light and being restricted to a single light source- I’d suggest using reflectors. This would allow you to light a subject from more than one direction with a single light and you would not be restricted to still life (due to the multiple exposures required using the above method). But this doesn’t allow for multiple styles of modifier in a single photo (from a single light), that would only be achieved through this method.

    It’s an interesting technique, but it is very limited (as stated) to only still life.

    Good post. It really made me think.

  • Very interesting. Could be useful as I am trying to get into stock photography.

  • Fred Kerr

    This reminds me a lot of the painting with light technique where the camera is on a tripod and the shutter left open while the photographer lights the subject from different directions and angles with a strobe, or a flashlight, etc. Once this is done, the shutter is closed. It was very popular during film photography but I don’t hear much about it now. With painting with light, you don’t need multiple exposures, just multiple flashes.

  • I love one light shots and often find them to be quite complex looking. I submit my example:
    http://www.lightshootedit.com/2010/03/from-black.html

  • oops, forgot I backlit her. Duh, forget my comment. 🙂

  • Steve, don’t try that technique for stock, you will find your rejection level is VERY high. Often this type of stacking technique will make a lot of noise and that will not get by quality control.

  • I think this is a great shot.

    The steps taken to achieve your final image shows that plenty of thought went into creating your vision.
    I especially like the idea of the use of the snooted flash to create the highlighted frontal section of the chips as the brighter light helps draw the eye to the foreground of the shot.

    Well done Dev, very creative use of the one flash.

  • B

    “This reminds me a lot of the painting with light technique where the camera is on a tripod and the shutter left open while the photographer lights the subject from different directions and angles with a strobe, or a flashlight, etc. Once this is done, the shutter is closed.”

    I had the exact same thought. I’m probably missing something because I don’t know much about flash photography, but why not remove the unit from the camera altogether and fire it multiple times, manually?

  • Fred Kerr

    It isn’t bad that this resembles the painting with light technique, in fact it is a really neat thing since now there are 2 ways to do it. I’m just learning about HDR and blending bracketed images, so this fits neatly into it. I think the picture (and the thought / preparation that went into it) is excellent. Thanks very much for sharing this approach.

  • Roz

    Fred and B – I guess you would massively overexpose the image if you kept the shutter open and fired the flash multiple times

  • Fred Kerr

    Painting with light doesn’t work that way. Look on Google for an explanation and you’ll see what I/we mean.

  • You don’t need multiple flashes for light painting… only multiple triggering of the same flash during your exposure time – unless of course that was what Fred Kerr was talking about. 🙂

    Besides, light painting is actually relatively huge. Just do a search on google. There are tons of really great light painted images out there. Many without flashes all together, Flashlights, fireworks, LED lights etc. will do wonders as well.

    Check out:
    http://www.tripwiremagazine.com/2009/07/seriously-awesome-light-painting-photography-collections.html

  • Love the word “TAINT” on the board. Hahahaha.

  • that is very interesting….

  • very nice article and amazing tips. thanks you Darren and thanks you Dev =)

  • Zale Archer

    http://lh4.ggpht.com/_ruc3Ui8wb7Y/S8FT9RSF5YI/AAAAAAAAOhk/Y8E42v3C2xE/s144/Scan0008.jpg

    This is a painting with light shot. Used a single flash to light the interior of the theater while the camera lens was locked open and on a tripod. It is called painting with light because you actually paint each area that you can see with the light from the flash

  • Zale Archer

    [eimg url=’From Misc Photos‘ title=’table>’]

    This photo should be with my previous comments – about painting with light. I am just learning how to attach photos to my comments. My original link the photo was to small.

    I used a single handheld flash to illuminate the interior.

  • Great article and one that will provide something to do on a rainy day when I don’t want to venture out and shoot. I only have a single flash so this will give me a change to get some added use out of it since I have not really focused on it or what it can do besides some basics.

    To see some of my photos or to follow my journey to go from Rookie to Pro photographer visit Rookie Photo

  • Zale Archer

    Here is another example on a smaller scale with lighting using the painting with light technique. As mentioned before in one of the post it can be done with a variety of light sources, flashlights, light bulb, etc.

    I have been involved with various aspects of photography since 1971 and retired as a Forensic Photographer after 27 years.

  • Zale Archer

    I have enjoyed all of the articles, they are great . I need to learn how to attach photos my skills there are lacking. Hope it works this time.

  • Very interesting article.
    Only problem i guess is setting this up and taking the photos is really time consuming.
    Otherwise, i guess it’s a wonderful techinique to try.

  • Very interesting technique. Seems very similar to HDR methods and is a nice alternative for people who are limited in their lighting setup. With a little practive I think it would work well for detail shots at weddings where objects are stationary and their isn’t room to setup multiple strobes for a single shot. A couple pops with a handheld strobe in a few different locations should do the trick. Thanks for the post.

  • Thank you very much for sharing this technique with us. As a mere upper-intermediate-beginner amateur photographer, I sometimes get stuck trying to accomplish one result in photography, which could be so easy if I had had the experience and knowledge, because it seems impossible with the gear I have. Then I read tutorials like this one and suddenly everything becomes clearer and the possibilities expand.
    “Once the feat has been done, anyone knows how to do it” (Christopher Colombus after making the egg stand on its tip)
    Thank you very much and greetings from Brazil.
    Adilson Andrade
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/adilson_aracaju/

  • merging photographs like this isn’t a real viable option for a real pro, taking the time to do this kind of post work would kill profits. This is a hobbyist only kind of tip.

Some Older Comments

  • Denver Photographer June 23, 2010 01:08 pm

    merging photographs like this isn't a real viable option for a real pro, taking the time to do this kind of post work would kill profits. This is a hobbyist only kind of tip.

  • Adilson Andrade June 17, 2010 01:10 am

    Thank you very much for sharing this technique with us. As a mere upper-intermediate-beginner amateur photographer, I sometimes get stuck trying to accomplish one result in photography, which could be so easy if I had had the experience and knowledge, because it seems impossible with the gear I have. Then I read tutorials like this one and suddenly everything becomes clearer and the possibilities expand.
    "Once the feat has been done, anyone knows how to do it" (Christopher Colombus after making the egg stand on its tip)
    Thank you very much and greetings from Brazil.
    Adilson Andrade
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/adilson_aracaju/

  • Wedding Photographers in Memphis June 2, 2010 07:44 am

    Very interesting technique. Seems very similar to HDR methods and is a nice alternative for people who are limited in their lighting setup. With a little practive I think it would work well for detail shots at weddings where objects are stationary and their isn't room to setup multiple strobes for a single shot. A couple pops with a handheld strobe in a few different locations should do the trick. Thanks for the post.

  • Singaporegrooms April 30, 2010 05:18 pm

    Very interesting article.
    Only problem i guess is setting this up and taking the photos is really time consuming.
    Otherwise, i guess it's a wonderful techinique to try.

  • Zale Archer April 27, 2010 10:02 pm

    I have enjoyed all of the articles, they are great . I need to learn how to attach photos my skills there are lacking. Hope it works this time.

  • Zale Archer April 27, 2010 09:47 pm

    Here is another example on a smaller scale with lighting using the painting with light technique. As mentioned before in one of the post it can be done with a variety of light sources, flashlights, light bulb, etc.

    I have been involved with various aspects of photography since 1971 and retired as a Forensic Photographer after 27 years.

  • Kyle Bailey April 27, 2010 10:15 am

    Great article and one that will provide something to do on a rainy day when I don't want to venture out and shoot. I only have a single flash so this will give me a change to get some added use out of it since I have not really focused on it or what it can do besides some basics.

    To see some of my photos or to follow my journey to go from Rookie to Pro photographer visit Rookie Photo

  • Zale Archer April 26, 2010 07:22 am

    [eimg url='From Misc Photos' title='table>']

    This photo should be with my previous comments - about painting with light. I am just learning how to attach photos to my comments. My original link the photo was to small.

    I used a single handheld flash to illuminate the interior.

  • Zale Archer April 25, 2010 10:03 am

    http://lh4.ggpht.com/_ruc3Ui8wb7Y/S8FT9RSF5YI/AAAAAAAAOhk/Y8E42v3C2xE/s144/Scan0008.jpg

    This is a painting with light shot. Used a single flash to light the interior of the theater while the camera lens was locked open and on a tripod. It is called painting with light because you actually paint each area that you can see with the light from the flash

  • Diana Eftaiha April 23, 2010 10:11 pm

    very nice article and amazing tips. thanks you Darren and thanks you Dev =)

  • Mark April 23, 2010 02:27 am

    that is very interesting....

  • Matt April 23, 2010 01:59 am

    Love the word "TAINT" on the board. Hahahaha.

  • Jesper Revald April 21, 2010 06:20 am

    You don't need multiple flashes for light painting... only multiple triggering of the same flash during your exposure time - unless of course that was what Fred Kerr was talking about. :-)

    Besides, light painting is actually relatively huge. Just do a search on google. There are tons of really great light painted images out there. Many without flashes all together, Flashlights, fireworks, LED lights etc. will do wonders as well.

    Check out:
    http://www.tripwiremagazine.com/2009/07/seriously-awesome-light-painting-photography-collections.html

  • Fred Kerr April 21, 2010 04:52 am

    Painting with light doesn't work that way. Look on Google for an explanation and you'll see what I/we mean.

  • Roz April 21, 2010 12:36 am

    Fred and B - I guess you would massively overexpose the image if you kept the shutter open and fired the flash multiple times

  • Fred Kerr April 20, 2010 03:17 am

    It isn't bad that this resembles the painting with light technique, in fact it is a really neat thing since now there are 2 ways to do it. I'm just learning about HDR and blending bracketed images, so this fits neatly into it. I think the picture (and the thought / preparation that went into it) is excellent. Thanks very much for sharing this approach.

  • B April 20, 2010 02:39 am

    "This reminds me a lot of the painting with light technique where the camera is on a tripod and the shutter left open while the photographer lights the subject from different directions and angles with a strobe, or a flashlight, etc. Once this is done, the shutter is closed."

    I had the exact same thought. I'm probably missing something because I don't know much about flash photography, but why not remove the unit from the camera altogether and fire it multiple times, manually?

  • Dean Toh April 19, 2010 09:18 pm

    I think this is a great shot.

    The steps taken to achieve your final image shows that plenty of thought went into creating your vision.
    I especially like the idea of the use of the snooted flash to create the highlighted frontal section of the chips as the brighter light helps draw the eye to the foreground of the shot.

    Well done Dev, very creative use of the one flash.

  • scott April 19, 2010 08:28 pm

    Steve, don't try that technique for stock, you will find your rejection level is VERY high. Often this type of stacking technique will make a lot of noise and that will not get by quality control.

  • scott April 19, 2010 08:27 pm

    oops, forgot I backlit her. Duh, forget my comment. :-)

  • scott April 19, 2010 08:26 pm

    I love one light shots and often find them to be quite complex looking. I submit my example:
    http://www.lightshootedit.com/2010/03/from-black.html

  • Fred Kerr April 19, 2010 02:33 pm

    This reminds me a lot of the painting with light technique where the camera is on a tripod and the shutter left open while the photographer lights the subject from different directions and angles with a strobe, or a flashlight, etc. Once this is done, the shutter is closed. It was very popular during film photography but I don't hear much about it now. With painting with light, you don't need multiple exposures, just multiple flashes.

  • Steve Alder April 19, 2010 04:32 am

    Very interesting. Could be useful as I am trying to get into stock photography.

  • Ron Gibson April 19, 2010 04:03 am

    This is an interesting technique. I prefer to use more lights, but that's not what this post is about.

    In order to cut down on cost for people needing more than one direction for light and being restricted to a single light source- I'd suggest using reflectors. This would allow you to light a subject from more than one direction with a single light and you would not be restricted to still life (due to the multiple exposures required using the above method). But this doesn't allow for multiple styles of modifier in a single photo (from a single light), that would only be achieved through this method.

    It's an interesting technique, but it is very limited (as stated) to only still life.

    Good post. It really made me think.

  • Jen at Cabin Fever April 19, 2010 02:05 am

    Interesting... So this is similar basically like taking and processing an HDR then? Rather than adjusting the camera settings you are adjusting the external lighting. Interesting to look at it from this perspective!

    And week two finalists have just been posted for my photo contest. Check them out. There is still one week left to enter!
    Cabin Fever in Vermont Photo Contest

  • Jen at Cabin Fever April 19, 2010 02:04 am

    Interesting... So this is similar basically like taking and processing an HDR then? Rather than adjusting the camera settings you are adjusting the external lighting. Interesting to look at it from this perspective!

    And week two finalists have just been posted for my photo contest. Check them out. There is still one week left to enter!
    Cabin Fever in Vermont Photo Contest

  • Danferno April 19, 2010 02:01 am

    Interesting technique.

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