Vis-à-Vis My Progeny

I'd been meaning to a portrait of the boys on their playscape for quite awhile.  And when I finally got a chance, it worked out pretty well given the less-than-ideal circumstances.  With my kids, I have to work extremely fast because they're good for about 10-15 minutes worth of photography before their attention spans are depleted and I'm spending more time wrangling than shooting.  So, I got everything set up and all my settings dialed in ahead of time and then called them out to the playscape when I was ready to shoot keepers. Unfortunately, we got off to a late start that morning and the sky was overcast, so the natural light wasn't very good.  But the Ezybox still made a good go of it.  I'm not keen on the big expanse of white in the background, but the boys look great.

More photos from this session after the break...

I shot these employing my usual method for flash:  manual everything.  Since it was such a short session, I used the same scene, the same lighting setup, and the same camera settings for all the photos:  f/7.1, 1/200 second, ISO 100.  I used a single SB700 speedlight through a Lastolite Ezybox softbox placed camera-right, just slightly above head-level with the kids.  You can see the placement by looking at the catchlight in their eyes.  I love the quality of light from the Ezybox - soft, wrapping, and sumptuous.  I'm very pleased with that light mod and highly recommend it.

I used CLS to trigger my flash.  I think people often associate CLS with TTL flash, but it also supports manual flash.  In fact, I think that's the ultimate way to use CLS:  You get the big-time convenience of controlling your flash power settings from your camera, but you get the consistency and predictability of using fixed power settings.  Now, I have used CLS in TTL mode along with the semi-automated exposure modes on the camera (Joe McNally style!).  It's amazingly sophisticated and it definitely works.  The camera figures out the proper exposure and flash power settings and you use the exposure compensation and flash compensation controls to tweak things when the camera doesn't get it quite right.  But the way these compensation controls work, you often have to do convoluted things like using flash compensation to compensate for your previous exposure compensation adjustments.  Compensating for my compensations:  I find that as circuitous to think about as it is to say.  If you can train your brain to think that way, it works wonderfully, as McNally proves everyday.  But for my brain, I think it's a hell of a lot easier to just put everything in manual and set things directly instead of "compensating" for the camera's misjudgements as well as my own compensations.  But that's me.  There's no one right way to approach this.

For a single flash set up, my usual MO is:
  • I put my camera in manual exposure mode and turn off auto-ISO.
  • I take some test shots without flash to dial in the ambient exposure using the shutter speed, aperture, and ISO.  This is standard exposure triangle stuff and I let the eventual subject matter guide my critical settings.  In this case, since the subject is going to be my hyper-kinetic kids, the critical thing is to have a sufficiently fast shutter speed -- near the top of the sync speed range.  But since there are two of them I also need to have enough depth of field to ensure both of them will be in focus in a variety of poses.  So I decide that a midrange aperture setting is called for.  Finally, since it is outside with plenty of ambient light I have the luxury of using my base ISO setting of 100.
  • Once I get a good ambient light exposure dialed, then I decide whether I really want a "good" ambient light exposure.  I may want to underexpose the background to draw interest to my subject.  Or I may be going after a high-key look and might want to blow out the background.  In this case, I decide to darken the background a bit.  So I stop-down the shutter a little (I think it was 0.7 or 1 stop).
  • The flash is then configured as a CLS remote and the camera is configured as a CLS commander.  From the camera, I put the flash in manual exposure mode and set my power.  In this case, I think that I started with around 1/4 power.
  • Then I take some test shots to get the flash exposure on my subject dialed in.  I use the camera LCD to see how the subject looks and adjust the flash power accordingly.  I also use the histogram display and the "highlight blinking mode" to identify and assess any blowouts.
  • If I got my ambient exposure truly set right before, getting the flash exposure right should only require adjusting the flash power.  But if I didn't nail the ambient or I decide to go in a different direction with it, I may have to tweak my camera exposure settings again, remembering the rule that shutter speed will affect only ambient exposure while aperture will affect both ambient and flash exposure.  That's a key concept in flash photography, and one that is not intuitive yet highly logical once you understand why.  But the hows and whys of that concept are for another post.
  • Once I have both the ambient and flash exposures dialed in, I'm ready to shoot and I call the kids down.