Spring is in the air-finally. Those of us in Minnesota saw our last snow melt a week ago. Those of us in Minnesota who are photographers are itching to get shooting. Today, in spite of the poor light (blue skies and mid-day sun), poor conditions (windy) and poor time of year (brown vegetation with sparse emerging plants), I went out to practice some manual flash techniques in preparation for the wildflower season.
Having spent some time over at the Strobist’s Blog, I have been eager to try out some less-than-automated flash photography.
Though armed with reflectors and sunlight my wildflower photos have been lacking something-some extra punch. I decided that maybe a little manual shooting like I did in the old days before Aperture Priority and Flash before ETTL, was in order. This is a departure from my usual technique to use natural light and then do the remaining corrections in image editing software.
“What a difference a little
well-placed flash can make!”
The real difference in the images to those who like to use software like Photoshop, Photo-Paint, Paint Shop Pro and Elements, to enhance their images, can be seen by reviewing the histograms.
Comparing the histogram without flash on the left with the histogram from the flash photo on the right we can see that the images are going to be different animals when it comes to editing. Most of the pixels in the normal exposure are in the second darkest stop of the image where Fill Light adjustments are normally applied. In the flash exposure, more of the pixels are in the Exposure Range of the histogram. Notice too, that the blacks are much heavier without the flash and actually plug on the blue channel. In the fill flash shot, the blacks are fewer and don’t plug. This seems intuitive: more light = less blacks and darks.
Here’s the rub: The highlights are actually better in the flash shot! The non-flash shot has plugged shadows in the blue channel and almost touches the wall on the left meaning highlights are approaching white. A little highlight recovery might be in order for the non-flash image.
What does it mean? The flash image has more to work with in areas that are going to lend themselves to editing. The non-flash image needs highlight recovery and black and fill light areas boosted. Those types of adjustments introduce noise and posterization if done too severely. What a difference a little well-placed flash can make!
It all goes back to the adage: Get it right in the field and you will spend less time in the software at the desk. The choice of using a little fill flash on an image that I could likely have easily recovered means I don’t have to do that bit of extra work. I can easily apply this technique to situations where I might have trouble doing it in software later.
So everyone, visit the Strobist Blog and then let’s all go out and flash something.
Rikk Flohr © 2008