Modifying Light - An Example (LOOOONG POST)

Thread starter #1

rip18

Senior Member
I've been meaning to post this to my blog, but Kadiddlehopper's question about using flash in bright light made me go ahead & write this up and share it here first...

Kadiddlehopper, your question is answered in the first two posts, but the other posts show some other examples (that I've actually used with birds at times as well...).

Bear with me, it's going to take me 7 posts to complete this example...

I was working on a presentation about how I photograph reptiles and amphibians and talking about modifying light using flash, diffusers, and reflectors. I had photographic examples of how we use all of those during a herp workshop with herps in controlled situations, but I did NOT have an example showing a single scene where we’d used all of those tools, so I recruited my buddy Gary Carter to help me shoot a series of a single scene.

Light (the quantity, quality, direction, etc.) is THE key to creating a great photograph. Seeing good light enables you to create better images. Understanding how you can MANIPULATE light to enhance your images allows you much greater creative control and lets you create better images under more difficult conditions.

With today’s digital tools, you can often modify how we perceive the light to have been when the image was created (think about how modifying white balance, color temperature, tone curve, shadows/highlights, etc. changes the image). Post exposure manipulation, however, does NOT change the light conditions when the photo was taken. Changing the actual light recorded on the sensor may result in a more pleasing image with less computer work needed. Having the image come off the memory card with little work needed is always a big plus in my world.

This series of images was shot to illustrate some of the results of using different light manipulation techniques . All but the last of these images are basically straight out of the camera with no effort made to optimize their color/contrast.

For our subject, we had a nice gray treefrog (Hyla chrysoscelis) on a small dead limb with some attractive green ferns around it. I didn’t attempt to get the frog to “pose” for this series, but instead let the frog get to where it was comfortable so that it would more likely stay in place while I completed this series of images. All of these images were shot with a tripod-mounted Nikon D300s in aperture priority mode (aperture set at f/16) and an old manual focus macro lens. For two of the shots, the self-timer was used because we didn’t have enough people to hold the diffuse, reflector, AND man the camera. If I had been by myself, I COULD have propped the diffuser & reflector up with spare light stands/clamps, etc., but having more people to help certainly makes using some of these tools MUCH easier…

For the first shot, we simply had the frog out in the bright sunlight about 10:00 in the morning (I know, the EXIF data says 9:00, but the camera thought it was over in Mississippi on central time when we were really in North Carolina on eastern time). There is a marked brightness with a lack of detail in the shadows coupled with several bright highlights with no detail. The color temperature was 4350 degrees Kelvin with some small over-exposed white areas and some pure black areas – both with no detail.
 

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Thread starter #2

rip18

Senior Member
For the second shot, we simply added fill flash (~ -2 flash compensation) using the pop-up flash on the camera. It’s somewhat counterintuitive that adding MORE light to a sunny bright scene can produce a darker, better image. Basically the fill flash “fills” the darkest shadows making a scene that has less contrast. This is such a hard concept to grasp because it doesn’t seem logical and the camera flash doesn’t last long enough for our eye/brain to see/comprehend the changes the flash makes to the way the camera records the scene. The on-camera flash is my least favorite flash choice, and adding fill flash from one or more larger, off-camera flashes would have likely resulted in an even more pleasing image. If I had thought to have taken this shot from a little more the side where we could see the frog’s eye better, this option would have also added a nice catchlight; OR if I had used an off-camera flash, then I could have created a catchlight. The color temperature was 5200 degrees Kelvin. There are actually MORE completely overexposed areas in this image, though they are all recoverable, and there are no completely black areas. The added flash reduced the overall contrast in the image by filling the darkest shadows & resulted in a little more pleasing image than shooting using only the bright sunlight.
 

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rip18

Senior Member
For the third shot, we used a large white, cloth diffusion panel between the frog and the sun to reduce the bright sunlight and the contrast it caused. The color temperature was 4450 degrees Kelvin. There is a marked lack of contrast in this shot with only a very few tiny over exposed and underexposed areas.
 

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Thread starter #4

rip18

Senior Member
For the fourth shot, we used the same diffusion panel but also added some directional fill lighting using a gold reflector which created nice warm tones. Also note that since the reflector was on the side of the frog where the visible eye was located, we got a nice catchlight in the eye from the reflector. The color temperature was 4250 degrees Kelvin. There are a few areas of overexposure and a few areas of underexposure.
 

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Thread starter #5

rip18

Senior Member
For the fifth shot, we used the diffusion panel, the gold reflector, AND fill flash from the pop-up flash. We got the diffused natural light, we got the nice warm color, we got the nice catchlight, AND we got the enhanced contrast with good detail in the shadows & highlight areas. This was the image that would require the least digital optimization to make a nicer-looking shot (if only the frog were in a cute pose…). The color temperature was 5400 degrees Kelvin with relatively large areas of over and under exposure – all recoverable.
 

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Thread starter #6

rip18

Senior Member
It’s always easiest to find existing good light & shoot in it, but sometimes you can modify poor or marginal lighting to create conditions that make creating a more pleasing image easier. Sometimes using one tool to modify existing light is enough, and other times it takes multiple tools. Different conditions require different actions, but if we understand how we can modify the light to create different conditions, then our creative options are expanded.

And here’s how I chose to optimize the last shot in that series….
 

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Thread starter #7

rip18

Senior Member
And for a little easier comparison...

Again, these images are straight out of the camera - no enhancement/optimization, etc. I think that I could have made any of them look decent, but the last was closest to what I was looking for...
 

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Thread starter #9

rip18

Senior Member
I noticed the color temp changing in these.Is that by the camera itself or are you adjusting them ?
Neither one - that is the ACTUAL color temp changing as we change the light hitting the subject.

(Technically, it is the camera sensing the different color temperature...).

Except for the last one, the only thing I did was resize them to fit the forum guidelines...
 
That's real a cool tutorial Robert :cheers: Might be a lot more then me and my normal traveling companion the Kodak will ever get to try but it does make me see how trying to get a different idea of how light shines on a subject can make a world of difference.. To me this means maybe just snaping a shot to get one then moving , mushin and moving again and then moving again.

Thanks for the ideas :fine:
 
Fantastic Tutorial RIP !

Next Question , Do you ever use a modifier for your pop-up flash ?
how often do you use the "On camera " flash in your work ?
 
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JasonF

Senior Member
Man, that's quite the write-up Rip!! Nice work and good stuff!!
PM me your blog address. I was not aware that you had one.
 
Thread starter #13

rip18

Senior Member
Thanks, y'all.

Next Question , Do you ever use a modifier for your pop-up flash ?
how often do you use the "On camera " flash in your work ?
I can't recall ever using a store-bought modifier for my pop-up flash, but I have taped an index card to make a "snoot" to narrow the flash to a "spot", and I have draped a single layer of Kleenex over the flash as a diffuser. When I do use my pop-up flash as fill flash, I regularly use the flash compensation to adjust the strength of the flash (the only way to do that is in-camera). When I use a bigger flash, I adjust the flash compensation on the individual flashes rather than using the camera settings to control the flash.

I use on-camera flash somewhat infrequently. Usually, if I think I need flash, I go ahead & dig out the "big" flash so that I have more light & control. I DO sometimes use the on-camera flash as a master to set off the big flashes as slaves... I'd say that I use on-camera flash maybe 2% of the time. I'd say that I use bigger flashes more than 70% of the time.

PM me your blog address.
Will do. It ain't much of one... :biggrin2:
 

GAJoe

Senior Member
Thanks for taking the time and trouble to help us!
Great info there!
 
Haven't added anything to the sticky at the top. I believe this one definitely makes the grade.

Thanks again for sharing your knowledge Rip.

Hoss
 
Thread starter #18

rip18

Senior Member
Y'all are more than welcome. It's neat to see those light transformations in person, especially to see how easily it can be done!
 
Thanks Rip. Appreciate all that you share with us.
 
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