Saturday, April 2, 2011

Lighting Makes The Difference: Fill In The Light

Have you ever had one of those days where nothing seems to go right?
Text & Photography By Tom Bol Published in Shooting
Lighting Makes The Difference: Fill In The Light
I use two types of flash brackets, the Lastolite TriFlash bracket and the Lightware FourSquare. These brackets allow me to mount and shoot three or four flashes in high-speed sync at the same time. This improves the flash range and makes it easier on the flashes to illuminate a distant subject. I normally zoom my SB-900s out to 200mm to focus the light as much as possible. Using these brackets, I can add high-speed fill-flash to a mountain biker jumping 30 feet away.

Small Strobe Pack

The next step up from using a speedlight is using a small portable strobe pack. Why spend the extra money for this option? Strobe packs offer more power, faster recycle time and the ability to use large softboxes for very soft fill light.

I like to use a battery-powered strobe pack like the Elinchrom Quadra. Battery units like this allow me the freedom to shoot anywhere I want. Since I normally add fill light in outdoor settings, freedom from AC power is critical.

Nothing changes in fill-flash principle. I’m still adding some fill light to reduce shadows, adding catchlight to eyes and popping the colors, all while balancing my flash with the daylight exposure. But with the 400-watt Quadra, I now have enough power to use very large, softboxes to add my fill light. A great trick when shooting portraits is adding a large soft fill-flash so subtly that most viewers won’t even know flash is being used. This touch of big, soft light opens up shadows, adds catchlight to the eyes and makes the difference between a nice portrait and a great memorable portrait. Have you ever looked at a portrait and thought, “Wow, that’s a great shot,” but you can’t quite figure out why that portrait looks better than the rest? Chances are, there was some big, soft fill-flash being used.

Another advantage when using a strobe pack is the fast recycling time. When adding fill light on portrait shoots, it’s important that your flash recycles quickly so you don’t miss any special moments with your model. When I shoot with my Quadras, I get very fast recycle times, shot after shot. I never have to wait for my flash to recycle. Since I’m only adding fill-flash, which doesn’t require much power, my recycle times are even faster, about a second. I use the wireless Elinchrom Skyport to trigger the Quadra. The packs have a built-in receiver that also allows me to control flash output at the camera via the Skyport.

Big Fill Options

Want to know the secret weapon many photographers use to add wraparound silky fill light? It’s using the giant octabank as a fill source, which requires using a powerful strobe pack. My Elinchrom Octa Light Bank is more than six feet in diameter, and it produces the softest light I’ve ever seen come out of a softbox. One special aspect of this light is that the flash head is mounted aiming at the back of the softbox, so the light is bounced into the Octa Light Bank before it’s reflected through the diffusion material in the front. This bounced flash produces even, soft light. I use an Elinchrom Ranger, a 1,100-watt, battery-powered pack, shot through a FreeLite A head to produce light from the Octa Light Bank. This system is an investment, but if you want the ultimate soft fill light, this is it.
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