From the Hot Shoe

Nikon D300s + Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 VC at 50mm f/5.6 ISO200 1/30 Second, SB-800 on Camera
Nikon D300s + Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 VC at 50mm f/5.6, ISO200 1/30 Second, SB-800 on Camera

Ok, so after we got home from work last night, I was photographing some items for Bridget that she wants to list on Ebay, and I decided “hey, I like your hairdo today, let’s take a couple pictures of you.” After she lamented that her makeup was smudging off and she wasn’t happy with the way she looked, we got started anyway. =)

With a single, ceiling mounted lamp providing ambient light, there’s no way we were going to make a pretty photograph without flash, so I mounted my SB-800. Is it possible to produce soft, pretty light with a flash mounted on the lens’s axis? One of the photos above might make you think not.

The photo on the right was taken with straight, bare flash on the camera set to i-TTL (intelligent through the lens metering). And there you have it: a nearly two thousand dollar camera making a properly exposed, aesthetically disastrous photograph. The harsh, straight light hits my poor wife right in the face, creating hot spots, flattening her features and widening her face, lighting up her ear like crazy (which draws the viewer away from her eyes), and casting unflattering shadows, including a big huge mass of dark ugliness in the background behind her. Yuck. And it’s my fault, not hers nor the camera’s.

Small light sources produce harsh light, and camera mounted flash fired straight at a subject kills depth and dimension. For the shot on the left, I used the same settings in the camera, but tilted the flash head 90 degrees, pointing straight up. Turning the camera vertical, the flash was now firing straight into a large white wall to my left. The camera and flash took care of nailing the exposure for me (though I did dial down the flash power just a tad after a test shot). Now, the light is popping off the SB-800, spreading, then hitting a large white surface, spreading even more, and then coming down and sideways across my subject, producing light that is directional, soft, even, and dimensional. It’s like a big fat soft box, without the soft box.

I guess the moral of the story is….for the love of all that is good, do everything you can to avoid firing on-camera flash straight at your subject! Unless, of course, you’re not particularly fond of your subject 😉


4 thoughts on “From the Hot Shoe

  1. I noticed on my N80/65 +SB50dx combo it will allow me fire the onboard flash and the speed light at the same time. Its lame though because that speedlight will only work in full manual mode on modern DSLRs. I have started learning GN and all that other silliness so I can use this flash until i can afford something that is fully compatible with my camera.

    the one on the right looks like a pap took it. It shows that no technology can substitute a good photog and common sense.

    good shot

    1. Thanks Rashard! You can get good results using a manual flash, and many still pro’s use dial in the power manually on their remote triggered lights. i-TTL makes life a lot easier in certain situations though!

  2. Wow, you did wonderful job with the photo on the left! I never use a flash or hot shoe, so I don’t know anything about the difficulty of using them.

    I love her hairdo!! She does it herself, doesn’t she?

    1. あかね、コメントありがとう!

      Yes, she’s really good with her hair!

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