Location Shoot: Studio Results; Portable Pro Lighting Tips & Gear

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One reason that many photographers prefer working in a studio is because they can totally control all aspects of light, from its source to its power, temperature, and direction. To control light in a studio, photographers utilize a variety of light modifiers, including umbrellas, softboxes, light tables, and barn doors.

It's possible to build homemade light diffusers that work very well. The larger the diffuser, the softer the resulting light. A diffuser consisting of a translucent white flexible plastic front attached to 6x6" white cardboard is very effective. The flash head is placed between the flexible plastic and the card, resulting in a light source the size of the card, making it possible to evenly light large surfaces. (Model: Stacy Bernstein.)
All Photos © 2008, Ron Eggers, All Rights Reserved

Shooting in the field significantly reduces the ability to control light. Oftentimes, ambient light can't be limited, and artificial light is too harsh for creative photography. For many people the most common type of artificial light for on location photography is the built-in flash. All but the least expensive consumer digital cameras and some very high-end professional D-SLR cameras have built-in flash. These on-camera flash units actually work very well. They make it possible to come up with good shots that would be difficult to get any other way.

But on-camera flash is often harsh. It tends to create unflattering shadows, both on and behind the subject. Just placing a white piece of translucent material in front of the flash will soften the harsh light, at least a little. Rather than having a pinpoint source of light, the diffusion material will create a wider source of light for more pleasing shadow detail. A small bracket made from a metal coat hanger and a little bit of cloth is all that's required to build one, but a more dependable course might be working with a commercial mini flash diffuser, such as the LumiQuest Soft Screen pop-up flash diffuser, available for $13.95.


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(1): The Hughes Soft Light Reflector. (2): LumiQuest's ProMax System. (3): Gary Fong's Lightsphere II Diffuser-Cloud. (4): LumiQuest's Soft Screen. (5): Homemade light diffuser. (6): Photoflex's LiteDiscs.

Most D-SLRs with built-in flash offer internal controls that help enhance their effect, including multiple pre-firings to reduce redeye, the ability to balance electronic and ambient light through fill flash, and the capability to incrementally adjust flash power output to reduce the chance of overexposure, especially with close-up photography.

These internal controls help somewhat, but, in most cases, they are not enough to come up with creative, professional results. One of the simplest solutions is adding an auxiliary flash. Auxiliary flash units do two things. They generate more light than on-camera flash, and they move the light source farther away from the camera lens, which helps reduce harsh shadows and, for the most part, eliminates redeye.

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