Speedlight Workshop Post Mortem

For those of you that might not know, I hosted a speedlight mini-workshop for the very first time Sunday. The catchy title for the mini-workshop was Ten Things You Can Do With One Speedlight. The whole concept of the mini-workshop is providing an easily accessible, quick hit, focused bit of education for people to sample some new things, get some fresh ideas, and serve as a starting point for further exploration. Typically I am far more familiar with whole day or multi-day deep-dive kind of workshops. At least the ones I've hosted in the past. Here are a few notes from this past weekend you might find interesting.

So how did this first speedlight mini-workshop go? On one hand it was an epic failure. I knew that getting through 10 different setups in two hours was going to take some really tight logistics. We got through a whopping four. Truth is it was actually more like three and a half. On the other hand it was a crazy success. The participants were enthusiastic about what they picked up. A little surprised at the wildly different results you could get with just a tiny bit of finesse along with the night/day kind of difference the movement of the flash head just a few degrees made in the way pictures looked.

I only made about ten exposures in two hours. Most of those were gauging ambient levels to make sure it was black or very low etc. None of them were paying any attention to our model or working the scene. I did everything I could to maximize shooting time for the participants. Here's a small example as to why…

First I had participants bounce from directly behind their shooting position for a very flat, soft even light. that can work really well in backlit or no light situations and requires almost zero care with respect to subject positioning. I thought a lot about sequencing of those Ten Things. Which prompted me to start with the backwards bounce front light and move directly to the side bounce. Both of which were using the speedlight as the main light and in the next case the only light as we killed ambient completely. I have a black frame to prove it. The image I made to the right was from the side but looks almost the same as the previous setup. I then made the following image on the left.

I was standing in the exact same place or really close. A casual observation or even a short explanation of explanation of my camera setup or speedlight position or any of that in words or even watching me make the picture would show no obvious differences. Camera settings and flash setting were identical. Exposure identical. People that already know why they look so different and further more can make both on demand without even thinking about it will also know how. It's obvious. For those that don't they'll get results that are closer to the former image every time even if they think they are doing what I did.

It's this reason I am a big fan of actual hands-on camera work no matter how much academic education you immerse yourself in. The value of just that one thing when you feel it by doing it yourself. Where you internalize the parameters in a way that you get it and feel it is invaluable and that 5 minutes is worth 5 weeks of internet or book reading. Both of these were on-camera speedlight shots. So was the image at the top where I let ambient be the main and demonstrated how the same setup could serve as very natural looking fill.

One final note on what I set out from the very start of this mini-workshop. We all had our cameras set to manual and I gave a starting point as well as showing a few variations, all of which were correct exposures. I encouraged each participant to play with the ratios between ambient and fill to get a good feel for what looks like what. At the beginning almost nobody did those variations. They just went with my starting point. By the end a few started really changing it up, even to the degree where a few asked if they could shoot the setup again with a few different changes to ratios. Absolutely… that's a large portion of the take away. There is no set recipe, it's situational, it's dependent on what you want, there's a lot of control to be exerted all of which are correct. Getting over some silly fear of a picture that's wrong or bad or doesn't work is actually a pretty big barrier for most photographers. Even ones that have been doing it for a long time. Take a look at what your doing. Are you bound too much by fear or being a slave to the histogram to try a few variations from what you might consider correct if so go make some really bad exposures on purpose. Get over it. I find myself subconsciously doing it in strange ways in different situations. I have to make an effort to push past it on some days.

Food for thought.

RB

Ps. You might be wondering what that tiny little difference was to produce those two dramatically different results of side bounced flash. Of course I'll spill the beans, I'm an open book. My speedlight head was pointed even further forward by less than 10 degrees. That's it. If you have been around the block you already assumed that. If you haven't done a lot of this you might even academically and intellectually get it. If you weren't there you might be surprised when you do it yourself how much it didn't work the way you thought it would because it's highly dependent on the particular scene subject positioning where you are standing etc. You have to do it and it's definitely not a great idea to wait until it counts thinking you know intellectually what to do.

Pss. Mary please forgive the not so great images. I just grabbed you in whatever state you happened to be in. Sorry. The participants have far better shots.

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