We’ve been working with flash off camera since we started our wedding photography business here in Houston,TX. For many photographers, the use of flash on camera is already a headache. I used to be one of those struggling with light and that is why I used to shoot everything just with ambient light and my manual settings. There is nothing wrong with using ambient light, in fact, that is why we get these expensive cameras so we can manipulate it. However, by just using ambient light, there is no way to give that third dimension to the image, or to fill in those horrible shadows on the face when photographing in an outdoor location. There is always going to be a better way to create impact in our imagery and that is by using flash off camera.
We recently photographed a local singer and for this session we were looking to make her stand out from the scenario. In fact, our scenario is a bar table. We shot this inside a nightclub. Those two chandeliers are real and they were just hanging there, which helped me to place my model. I knew that the main thing I wanted to show was her and the chandeliers. For this, we had to make the background disappear by just placing one flash on each side of her. We also placed a third flash behind her, to give her that extra glow that separates her from the background. The trick was to make sure that her face was properly lit. Sometimes we make the mistake of forgetting the face and eyes. If the purpose is to hide the face, then it is fine, but if the face is playing a role there, we need to make sure that the eyes don’t look dead.
With that being said, it is not just about placing one flash on each side to give it a third dimension and then it's done. It is about taking care of every detail and knowing that placing the flashes crossed like this, will create horrible shadows on the face. That is why I use a very soft fill light. Just so you know, I don’t carry big equipment like soft boxes or special studio lighting. I use a fourth flash, which was, in this particular case, on my camera. I pointed it slightly to the left and gave it direction with my hand (Yes, with my hand!) so it could reach her face and especially her eyes. If you see the close up, you will find those catch lights in her eyes, which is what you should have in every single portrait! Otherwise, the subject would look dead! It doesn’t matter if it is not a close up image, even when this is a wide angle shot, the catch lights make her look alive, and most importantly, I know that I got a perfect shot!