Friday, April 29, 2011

Flashing your cake...

That sounds kind of dirty but fear not. It isn't what you think it is. Or maybe it is? Anyway, I wanted to talk to you a bit about Flash photography. It can be a wonderful thing. Or it can be your worst enemy. It really does depend on how you massage that little light.

So, 1st I would like to know how many of you have a entry level DSLR? like a Rebel or a Nikon D5000? or any other kind of DSLR with pop up flash... if you do please take a hammer (the bigger the better) and smash that pop up flash as HARD as you can. That thing is the devil. Ok... wait... maybe no. Just promise me you will try to stay away from using that thing. Unless you want flat unflattering photos of anything you take. Or there is just nothing else to do about it.

Lets talk about why that pop up flash is so bad. Anytime you use a pop up flash OR a speedlight that is pointed the same direction as your lens that's called on-axis. And that's generally bad. It not natural. You don't walk around with a light between your eyes all day long do you? If you do you might want to seek medical help.

On-axis light will give you flat, boring, deer caught in the headlights kind of look. Which remainds me of that time me and my wife were having dinner at a nice restaurant and they were having this reception for a wedding. I saw the "photographer" taking photos of everyone (bride and groom) with her pop up flash. Ask my wife I could barely contain myself, I wanted to get up grab my speedlight put it on her camera pointed so it bounces off the ceiling to have something decent light for the photos but that's a story for another post.

Anyway, I went off on a tangent there. Back to the little light. Flash... Here is the issue. You don't want on-axis light for anything. You want light that is coming from the right, or the left, or the top.. or top right, or top left. Anything else will always look better than on-axis light.



Picture #1 was done with the pop up flash on a Rebel XT (old camera) . Picture #2 was taken by the same Rebel but with a little help of a Speedlight and my lovely assistant (my wife) holding a piece of paper.

Now, let's talk about what's happening to the light in the 1st photo the on-axis killer. (queue psycho music) The photons are generated from a small source, the pop up flash, which is about, an inch wide by 1/4 inch tall? So, all those photons are traveling straight from your camera into your delicious subject, the cake. Giving you a flat and harsh light because there was nothing for the light to go but in a straight line from the small source.

Now, here is a super detailed and totally to scale (not) diagram of the setup for the 2nd photo.

On the 2nd photo you have a speedlight pointed about 45 degrees to the right. The Speedlight surface area is already bigger which will generate a nicer light but not by much. It is still a small source. About 2 inches tall by 3 inches wide? Don't know the exact measurements. Now, I am not sending my photons straight to the cake shotgun style. No, I am bouncing my photons, it's like playing pool with a shotgun bouncing from the white sheet of paper toward the cake. Just simple printer paper... now the area that will light up my cake isn't a small as a speedlight. My photons are now converted, transformed into a much nicer and softer light thanks to the bigger area of the white sheet of paper. We are talking 8x11, which in turn will produce a much nicer light, softer shadows and on top of that directional light. And directional light is good!

Now, you might say. I only have a the pop up flash on my DSLR. Excuses, excuses... you have aluminum foil? yeah... that's right... put it right in front of the pop up flash angled at 45 degrees pointed towards the white piece of paper and voila! Same result. (might have to bring the flash compensation up....) 

Ok, so at the end of the day, let's leave this little post (yeah right!) with a few points.

  • Pop up flash is evil
  • Your speedlight can be evil if you shoot it On-axis
  • Bounce your light off anything that is white or warm colors.
  • Make your little light source (speedlight) bigger by using everyday object to bounce off.
Feel free to ask me any questions and I will happy to answer them.

1 comment:

  1. I wish I had a nice camera...I just have the digital cameras that take scary crappy pics!