A bit of a fun portrait using studio strobes and gelled lighting.
This photo was taken at a James Bond inspired photo shoot. I had the idea of using a blind to represent a window and to have a light shining through he blind, this then evolved into a film noir styled shot. I love the low key style and the mystery of what is happening.
Where is your studio? Maybe some fancy building with lots of lights and modifiers to hand or maybe some top floor penthouse apartment? My studio for this shot was in a skittle alley of a Bristol pub! You see, my view is that your studio can be anywhere you want it to be and sometimes you just need a small space where you can set up a couple of speedlights and a reflector, oh, and a seamless paper backdrop. This lady is actually a very good makeup artist and I wanted to get a shot that told a story about her and the beauty is that I didn’t need to hire an expensive studio to achieve my shot. Expensive studios are very nice with their expensive lights and everything to hand and if you are taking quality shots for quality clients day in, day out then yes, you will probably need that space. But, for hobbyists and part time photographers a purpose build studio is not the only option!
The days are beginning to get longer and the spring flowers are starting to appear . I have a Sigma 105 mm macro lens which I haven’t really used much so I thought I would have a play. This shot was taken on a tabletop with a mottled brown paper backdrop. I used a large octabox, fitted with a grid, camera right and a foam core board as a reflector. The light was provided by two cheap Aperlite speedlights, one in the softbox and one with a Rogue Flashbender grid on the background. I set a custom white balance in camera and did some basic processing on the resulting RAW file. The vignette was created by the lighting and not in post. Other processing was to bring out the vibrancy of the yellow colour of the daffodil.
The weather has been quite rubbish outside so I decided to have a go at a still life. The lighting was a bit challenging and I spent a couple of hours playing around with the lights, diffusers and flags.
I used two Aperlite flashguns attached to manual wireless radio triggers. There was a key light places camera right and behind the setup. This light had a small Calumet flashgun softbox attached which in turn was fired through a second diffuser panel. The fill light had a grid attached placed camera right and in front of the setup to add a bit of fill, this was set at about 1.5 stops lower than the main light. Various flags were then used to help control the spread of light.
Using flashguns was useful for the tight space I was working in, the only downside is that they do not have a modelling light so a few test shots are needed to see the effect. I can reduce the power a lot more that my studio strobes though so they do have some advantages.
I decided to have a go at photographing some smoke. I set my camera on my tripod, put it into manual and used my Aperlite speed light in manual mode. I set the flash to 8th power which gave me an aperture of f5.6, the shutter speed was set at 1/160 ( to be honest I wasn’t too worried about the shutter speed just as long as it didn’t go above my flash sync speed). The flash was placed side on to the smoke and fired using a basic wireless trigger; the camera was pre-focused and as I use back button focusing the lens could safely be left on AF without the worry of the camera trying to refocus between shots.
I tried using a candle at first but the smoke that it gave off was a bit sparse and didn’t work very well. I think that people generally use incense sticks but I didn’t have any! I took a page out of a notebook and folded it into a kind of long stick and this worked well, I just had to be careful not to let the flame take hold for too long before I extinguished it to get the smoke.
I took the images into Photoshop, did a bit of transforming, added some coloured overlays and this is the result!
I have received a flashgun from a company called Aperlite, it was sent to me to product test and give my view on the product. The flashgun I have is a YH-500C; C denoting Canon mount. The unit itself retails for about £45 on Amazon so I wasn’t expecting too much. The flashgun arrived from Amazon and was well packed. The box containing the flash was quite sturdy as well. When I unpacked the flash, the first thing that I noticed was that it had a metal hot shoe mount (something that my £200 Sigma flash didn’t have) and on the whole the unit feels well built apart from a slightly flimsy battery door. Once the door is locked into place it feels sturdy and hasn’t given me any problems. The flash has a guide number of 58
The YH-500C has five modes: TTL, Manual, Slave 1, Slave 2, Strobe, auto zoom head plus it boasts thermal cut-out protection to protect from overheating (sadly lacking in my sigma which ended up in damaging the flash unit). The instructions do say that it supports second curtain sync, but as yet I have been unsuccessful in getting this to work. There is a PC port on the side of the gun and the option of attaching the unit to an external portable power pack. The head will swivel 180o to the left and 45o to the right and there are also markings for 45/60 & 75o for tilting the head. There are no buttons to press when moving the head but it locks in place quite with a reassuring click! The head zooms between 24mm, 28mm, 35mm, 50mm, 70mm, 80mm and 105mm. The head also incorporates a wide angle diffuser and a bounce card.
TTL works as well as any other flashgun that I have uses and I like the ease in which I can adjust the flash exposure compensation by directly pressing one of the buttons on the back. Flash exposure is from -3 stops to +3 stops in 1/3 increments.
Manual mode is also easy to use and the power can be adjusted to 1/128 power in 1/3 increments. Again, power is adjustable by pressing a button on the rear of the unit; there are no menus to navigate through. I think this is a great feature as it makes shooting in manual quick and easy.
You are able to vary the power, speed and number of flashes in “Strobe” mode. I have had a play with this and it is trial and error, but then this was no different to my Sigma.
Slave 1 and Slave 2 work well; slave 2 ignores any pre-flash and does it very well. I have had 100% success in these modes and once again, power is easily adjustable. The slave modes are optical and not wireless so the flash gun has to be in line of sight of the master flash. I have used the unit with a Hahnel Combi TF wireless trigger with no problem whatsoever.
In conclusion, it may not have all the bells and whistles of the Canon 600EX-RT but I would have to pay another £400 for that one. What it does do, it does well and it is easy to navigate the menu which is clear and easy to see. As I work a lot in manual and use off camera flash I found the unit quick and easy to set up. I haven’t used the external power option but the 4 AA batteries last well and the flash recycles in about 3 seconds on full power. The build quality is good and I am more than pleased with the metal hot shoe mount instead of plastic. I would rather take this unit out on location rather than an expansive flash as if it were to get broken through being blown over I have only lost £45. Two features I would like to see on the unit are HSS and rear curtain Sync but if you can live without these two features then I would highly recommend this flashgun, I don’t think you can beat it for the price. The featured image was taken with the Aperlite YH-500C.