In the shot above I used a single 400Ws flash pack and head. I fitted a 28cm high efficiency reflector and lit my model from a distance of five metres. The pack was an Elinchrom Quadra and it was flat out on full power. Full length pictures require more flash power than close ups because the light has to cover a wider area.

Clouds make a wonderful real life back drop. I lit Chloe with a Speedlight zoomed into 105mm, rigged four metres away and switched to full power.

Here are my steps to producing repeatable results on sunny f/16 days using manual control flash.

Things you will need: A loupe
Things you won’t need: A light meter

The 10 steps

1. Set the cameras shutter speed to the highest sync value.

2. Set the ISO to the lowest value without compromising tonal range. Don’t use the L values for ISO.

3. On a sunny day set the lens to f/16 and shoot the ambient only.

4. Assess the shadow detail using a loupe. Look at the histogram if you wish.


This kind of enclosed loupe is perfect for SLR exposure assessment on sunny days.

5. Adjust the aperture as required for the desired shadow value and re-test as required.

I lit Kate with the Elinchrom Quadra and my Fujifilm X100 was set to 1/1000th of a second. That’s the fastest flash sync of the camera while retaining a full aperture range.

6. Put an ND filter on the lens to get the aperture into the range you want. I like to shoot at f/8 on my Zeiss 21mm Canon fit lens so I often use a x4 ND filter (2 stops or ND 0.6 eqv). If Im using my 60mm Fuji lens I might use a x32 filter (5 stops or ND 1.2 eqv) to get the lens open to f/2.8. With the electronic viewfinder, LCD or optical viewfinder of a mirrorless camera this filter is completely usable without any noticeable change in screen brightness as all three viewing modes are unaffected. With an SLR the screen image becomes very dark indeed. With SLRs there are high speed sync systems that can get around this short fall but they won’t all work with big flash packs.

7. Switch the flash to half power and place it in the desired position with the appropriate modifier. Obviously positioning of the flash is the artistic bit and is a subject all of it’s own.

I used a pair of Speedlights in a Gemini bracket with a silver umbrella to light Natalia here. By using two Speedlights I can run them on half power and get a much faster recycling time. When I’m using the flash units on manual it doesn’t matter what make of Speedlight I use. As long as it gives out light it is perfect for my needs.
Natalia was lit here with the same lighting set up as in the picture above. I established my shooting position directly into the sun so that I could use the same 2 point lighting technique I discussed on Photofocus here. I then moved the branches of the dead tree into position and used them to create a strong triangle in my composition. I posed Natalia so that her legs echoed the branches of the tree.

8. Take a shot and assess flash exposure using the loupe on the rear LCD. Zoom into 100% and scoot around the picture checking face and skin as well as fabrics etc. Don’t be fooled into thinking the flash is over exposing by observing shiny skin. Tissues or cosmetic powder is a must when shooting in the sun.

9. You will probably want to set the power up to full and maybe move the flash head a little having seen the position of the shadows. Again you need to use the loupe to look at how the light is falling on your subject.

10. Take the picture and once again assess the shot with the loupe checking expression and for blinks etc. From here on it is a case of just directing your subject knowing the technical aspects are dealt with.

I used a bare faced Quadra on a boom arm for this shot. You can see the suns shadow of Carla on the ground in front of her. The shadow under her chin is from my flash. The shadows say it all. The size of the Quadra head is about five times that of a Speedlight and is softer as a result. You can just make out Carla’s shadow from the Quadra on the ground and wall behind and to the right of her.

There are just two bursts of flash needed before you are ready to shoot. This is critical if you are out on location using battery power. Wait for the flash to fully recycle before each subsequent exposure and keep an eye on the ambient light level. If a wispy cloud covers the sun your ambient element of the exposure may be one whole stop down making your shadows deeper that you expect.

The reason I don’t use a light meter is that it is far better and easier to assess the picture at 100% using playback to see exactly what you have. You can check the histogram too if you are that way inclined. I have spent more of my photography career shooting film on medium format cameras using light meters than I have shooting digitally. The day that I abandoned the light meters, calculations and guesswork was a great day for me.

I placed Natalia in full shade
I placed Natalia in full shade and used a pair of Speedlights zoomed in to 150mm and pointing directly at her from four metres. I used a Gemini bracket and although the flashes are really close together you can still make out a double shadow on the ground. The location is southern Spain.

When Im teaching, delegates cameras are often at different apertures to achieve similar results. There are many reasons for this including lens transmission factors and mechanical linkages. I find switching between my 24-70mm f/2.8 Nikon lens set to 70mm and my 70-200mm f/2.8 lens set to 70mm will show nearly a 1 stop different exposure for the same aperture. Thats just life and it can probably be attributed to one of the little levers on the back of the lenses that has just 5mm of travel to get from f/2.8 to f/22 being slightly worn. By using the 10 step method above and assessing the captured image, perfect exposures can be achieved whatever the camera/ lens combination no matter how old or worn.

Not everyone’s technique is the same but I hope this information will be useful.

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