Not having had the chance to get out and shoot the streets of Ottawa very much, I have found myself dipping into my catalogue more often. This is an image I made late one night while experimenting with different lighting positions.
Self portraits are tricky, and I often find it easiest to accomplish using old manual focus lenses attached to my camera using an adapter. This image was accomplished using an old Minolta MD manual focus 50mm lens on my Sony, with a single flash positioned at 90 degrees to my left (camera right) that had a Rogue FlashBender on it to diffuse the light slightly.
There are two types of light to consider when doing flash photography – ambient light (the light we see that fills the room) and light coming from the flash itself. What people don’t often realize, is that the amount of these two light sources can be controlled by making simple changes to our shutter speed and aperture settings, and if you know these two things, the overall quality of your photography can improve dramatically whether using flash or taking pictures on a bright sunny day.
Shutter Speed – controls ambient light
Shutter speeds are identified by numbers that look like fractions – 1/100th, 1/200th, 1/400th, etc and can go up to 1/4000th on most DSLRs today. The higher the number, the faster your shutter will click, and the less light will enter your sensor resulting in darker images. Conversely, the lower the number, the more light will be let into your sensor resulting in brighter images.
For the image above, I wanted to eliminate the ambient light in the room. To accomplish that, I set my shutter speed to it’s maximum sync speed of 1/250th. This is the fastest that my camera can take a picture using a flash before it starts to cut off the image. If I had set my shutter speed to a faster setting, such as 1/500th, then part of the left side of my face would have been cut off. If I had set my shutter speed to a slower setting, such as 1/100th, then some of the wall in the background would have been visible in the image.
Aperture – controls flash light
Yes, you can change the flash power by making adjustments on the flash itself, but it’s often easier to accomplish the same effect by simply changing the aperture on your camera. The aperture is identified in f-stops, such as f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6, etc and can go up to f/22 for most standard lenses. The higher the number, the darker your image will be because it will be letting less of the flash light hit your sensor.
I don’t remember where my aperture ended up on the image above, but I would have started with an aperture of f/5.6 and my flash at half power, and made the appropriate adjustments from there. That’s always my starting point. If I had to guess, I would have probably ended up at f/10 or f/11 to get this look.