Friday, January 27, 2012

Control The Light

Every photographer knows light is what makes or breaks an image.
Text & Photography By Tom Bol Published in Shooting
Control The Light


When most photographers think about grids, they envision the classic seven-inch circular honeycomb grid. These grids fit on studio strobe heads and often come in sizes of 10, 20, 30 and 40 degrees. Grids do a terrific job of controlling the angle of light coming from your flash. If you use a 10-degree grid, it's like using a laser beam—the light is very narrow and focused. For almost every shoot, I use gridded lights. If I want to put a "kiss of light" on a background element, I'll use a 10- or 20-degree gridded flash for the job. My goal is to light the shot, not illuminate it. Don't blast light everywhere; pick areas to which you want to direct the viewer and add light there.

Speedlights also can use grids. A number of companies produce grids, including Honl Photo, Lastolite and Rogue (ExpoImaging). These grids attach to the flash head and direct the spread of light. Also, many TTL flashes have the ability to "zoom in" and narrow the beam of light. My Nikon SB-900 can zoom out to 200mm. This is a very handy feature in adding flash just where I need it in an image.

I also grid my softboxes. Soft, flexible egg-crate grids attach to the front of most softboxes, radically reducing the spread of light, but still maintaining the soft effect. Any photographer who has used a softbox in a small room swears by using grids. Softboxes send light everywhere in a small room and don't allow much separation from the background. Add a grid to the softbox, and you can put light on your subject, but not have it spill all over the room. This allows you to add another gridded light to separately illuminate the background. Lighttools makes beautiful grids to fit most brands and sizes of softboxes. They attach securely using a rigid frame, which also eliminates any errant light.


Flash technology only gets better and better. Recent advancements in flash capabilities have changed the way I shoot. One feature I can't live without is high-speed sync (HSS) flash photography. HSS flash shooting allows you to use a faster shutter speed than your normal flash sync speed, which for many cameras is 1?250 sec. Many people think HSS photography is all about freezing the action, but it also allows you to control the light.

Imagine you're shooting in bright midday sun. You'd like to use a large aperture, say, ƒ/2.8, to achieve a shallow depth of field in your portrait. Since the subject is slightly backlit, you need to add some fill-flash. When you determine your exposure using ƒ/2.8, you find that 1?2000 sec. is the right shutter speed to use. And since you want to darken the background exposure from your flash exposure, you decide to shoot at 1?4000 sec. Since you're using HSS, you can use these fast shutter speeds and control (underexpose) the daylight exposure. Without HSS, you'd be stuck using 1?250 sec.

Can you use HSS with larger flash systems to achieve the same effect? The answer is yes, thanks to PocketWizard's HyperSync utility and transceivers. HyperSync calibrates the flash and shutter timing, allowing faster sync speeds with large flash systems. You need to get a PocketWizard MiniTT1 or FlexTT5 transmitter, and also use a PocketWizard receiver on your flash pack. Sync speeds vary, depending on the flash system and camera used, but I can sync over1?2000 sec. using this system with my
Elinchrom Ranger Free Lite S head. Slower-flash-duration heads work best with HyperSync.
Login to post comments

Popular How-To

  • Always Be Sharpening

    Always Be Sharpening

    Raw image files are great, but they come out of the camera half-baked. If you’re not sharpening your RAW image files, your images won’t look their best.

  • Adding Copyright Information In Camera

    Adding Copyright Information In Camera

    Your ownership information can be embedded directly in EXIF metadata from the moment of capture. Here’s how.

  • Gear For The Soulful Photographer

    Gear For The Soulful Photographer

    Shooting with equipment that complements your individual aesthetic can lead to images with more depth and meaning

Popular Gear

Subscribe & Save!
International residents, click here.