It’s not the gear that makes a photographer good, everybody knows that. However, sometimes there are limitations to what can be done with the gear you have – knowing those limitations are important.
I wanted to go outside to shoot a portrait for a change, so I dressed my wife up a bit and dragged her to some trees. Ok, she was perfectly capable of dressing and walking to the trees by herself, which was probably a good thing, seeing how I had to drag (this time literally) a stand and boom with me. See a bit farther below for a setup shot (yes, I remembered it for once). It was quite a windy day and, as you can see in the setup shot, the ground was uneven, which made the light look dangerously close to falling over. I solved that by leaning it a bit against that front tree. Balancing issues solved, it was time to start shooting.
What I really wanted for this shot was to incorporate some motion. The idea was to use a slower shutter speed to blur the motion of the dress as my wife spun around. Since it was a relatively sunny day I knew I would have to close down the aperture to get the shutter speed I was after. That meant losing the dof, but I was fine with that. My flash, however, was less fine with that. The light isn’t far away from the subject but, even so, I couldn’t light the scene the way I wanted to with the aperture closed down enough to also give me the motion I wanted. I was running the LP160 at full power but it still didn’t give me enough. Change of plan, forget the motion and just get a decent shot. I would have liked to have a shallower dof, but that wasn’t going to happen. In the final shot I’m at iso 100, f5.6 and 1/200. That let me kill enough of the ambient to add flash (at full power) and get the result I wanted, minus the motion.
How to solve these problems in the future? There are a few options, let’s take a look.
Option 1: get a big flash with lots of power. Certainly a solution to a lot of the issues you’ll run into when using small flash at max power. However, this isn’t going to happen, it simply isn’t in the budget.
Option 2: wait. As far as solutions go, it doesn’t get cheaper than this. By waiting until the evening we can get ambient light that is a lot more manageable. If I waited long enough I would be able to both open up the aperture and drag the shutter and my flashes would be very happy. This is probably the best solution, especially if you can get some nice sunset light in the background sky as well.
Option 3: ND filter. This is something I’m planning to get in the future (within a year maybe). A ND filter would allow me open up the aperture for some nice dof while still killing the ambient enough to add flash. I plan to combine this with a dedicated portrait lens for some really nice, soft backgrounds (expensive hobby). However, a ND filter wouldn’t really have solved much for this particular situation. It would have given me a shallower dof, yes, but I would still run into a power problem if I were to try the whole motion thing again, there’s just too much ambient bouncing around. Still, the combination of a good (variable) ND filter and a fast portrait lens will give me some really nice options once I’ve saved up enough to get them (let me know if you would like to donate some money – I know you want to).
There are perhaps a couple of other things I could have tried. For starters I could have removed the CTO gel I had on the flash. In hindsight that was a mistake anyway, I don’t like the colour difference I got when the sun came out. It worked fine when my subject stayed completely in shade but the sun makes it look a bit weird (top shot, compare the colour of her hands and face). Another thing I could have done was to remove the inner diffuser panel from the softbox. I’m using a Lastolite ezebox and it has two diffuser panels. It would give me more power but also a harder light. Finally, I could have tried to somehow jam a second flash into the softbox, effectively doubling the power.
Even though I didn’t quite get the results I wanted it was a good experience, I now know more of the limitations of my current gear and that will help me make decisions in the future. I still managed some decent shots as well, so it wasn’t a total loss. Now I have to get back to pretending to work – have to get money to finance my hobby somehow…