Using Off-Camera Flash to Create Dramatic Images

Using Off-Camera Flash to Create Dramatic Images

Using Off-Camera Flash to Create Dramatic Images with Raph Nogal

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Using Off-Camera Flash

Light is pretty much everywhere, you just have to find it. Just because you find light doesn’t mean it is good light. As a full-time wedding photographer, it’s part of my job to find the best light to flatter my subjects. My groom wants to look cool and my bride wants to look beautiful. When good light is available, I’ll certainly use it, but it’s not always there. But guess what is always available? My off-camera flash.

What if you had the ability to put light wherever you wanted? A spotlight here, a wash of light there, a different color somewhere else, and so on. There is only one way to free yourself from the traditional sense of available or natural light, and that’s with off-camera flash (OCF).

At first it may be daunting to get into off-camera flash, with all the choices of flashes, strobes, triggers, receivers, transceivers…. Start with a single light and a single system. I’ve done off-camera flash since the second wedding I ever photographed, in 2008, and still use one single light about 90 percent of the time. Once you understand and have some practice balancing light (available and flash), the possibilities are endless.

I use off-camera flash to create dramatic and edgy images for my clients—the hero shots—but I also use it a lot just to add that extra not-so-obvious sparkle to my images. Over the years, I’ve learned not to just settle for what’s in front of me when I’m about to take photographs. I think beyond the obvious and create something that isn’t really there. Flash is almost instantaneous: 1/250th of a second is pretty darn fast. So things are not obvious when the flash goes off, especially to an onlooker, but they look incredible after the fact.

In the Club

In this example, the bride and groom chose a pretty cool venue for their wedding photos. It was a typical wedding hall, but it was attached to a private lounge. The club offered various options for some creative images, but I wanted to think beyond the obvious. I noticed the cool and unique light fixtures and changed my position by laying down on the ground so I could get the light fixtures to line up in the frame and lead the eye into the couple. I placed the couple on the left side to balance the frame. I used off-camera flash fitted with a grid to narrow down the light beam so that it hit only the couple. The result is a different perspective and something unique given that the space had a lot of usable nooks and crannies that most photographers will default to.

Groom and the Boys

This photo was taken during the morning portion of guys getting ready. After working in the house for 45 minutes, we had some time to explore our options outdoors. When you start implementing OCF into your workflow, even when you become proficient, it always helps to have enough time to let you brain work out all the possibilities while still under pressure. I ask for about an hour with the groom getting ready in the morning, and more time with the girls to set myself up for success.

For this shot, we were in a subdivision, so all we had to work with outdoors were neighboring houses, driveways and all of the subdivision glory. I noticed the dramatic clouds in the sky, found an opening between the houses and trees, and placed the guys so that the photograph featured just them and the dramatic sky. By adding off-camera flash, I was able to retain the details in the sky and use a Profoto B2 OCF with a silver beauty dish with the front panel removed for a slightly stronger output and to produce a more contrasty light. I think the look suits the guys.

Stained-Glass Window & Silhouette

When I walk into any venue or church, I’m looking for possibilities, predominant features and also spaces that most would walk right by. In this case, the stained-glass windows immediately caught my attention. This church was especially important to this couple, and I wanted to create an artistic photo for them with that in mind.

I placed the couple on the left side of the frame and had the beautiful window on the right. Exposing for the window brought the exposure of the entire scene down to almost pure blackness, with very little detail. While I could have used OCF to light the couple, I wanted to maintain the drama of the image and decided to use some complementary light behind them, creating a silhouette. I used the MagMod system to create this image. I also used a MagGrid and placed the MagShere on top to feather out the tight beam and create a soft and gradual falloff from the center.

Foggy Night 

After a few dances at the reception, while guests were mingling around the bar, I saw some fog rolling in. We were in an outdoor tent right by the water. As I entered the street just outside the reception area, the fog was growing quite thick. I immediately thought: backlight!

I rushed over to get Oliver, and we went out in the middle of the street and did a few test shots. After we got what we were looking for, I grabbed my clients and we did this shot in literally 10 seconds. I used a bare backlight about 10 feet away from the couple, and zoomed the flash to 24mm to get a wide spread of light. This created a stunning silhouette as the light also lit all the water particles in the fog and created some major drama. I then added a main light camera left and added a full CTO gel so I could have more yellow/orange light on the couple. Setting the white balance to tungsten made the white light from the back flash blue.

It’s all about thinking past the obvious, challenging yourself and not just seeing light, but seeing the possibility of light. Off-camera flash can take you from mundane to extraordinary.

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