Indoor Events, Mixed Lighting Techniques


McGregNi

Link Posted 27/01/2016 - 00:45
We occasionally see requests for advice on photographing indoors and the settings to use for flash when working with mixed lighting, for example natural window light and artificial lights alongside the flash. I had the chance to try out some of this recently at a family pub lunch outing, so I thought I would write about some of the key considerations when making camera and flash settings, and use some of the shots I took as examples.

The shots are casual, but the techniques can be applied to any more formal situation where you need to create a balance from different light sources, and need to use flash to control contrast and provide a nice illumination where the natural light is poor. Also applicable for when you need to take control of more than one colour temperature level.

So this is my workflow and the things I consider and how I used the camera and flash controls .....


Key Setting Considerations

1) The Ambient Exposure should be set first to allow background natural light to record, and this should ideally be fixed in Manual Expoure mode - this ambient exposure can be somewhat underexposed to add atmosphere

2) The fixed manual ambient exposure should allow a shutter exposure time that is suitable for steady hand-holding, and both the aperture and ISO will have to be adjusted to achieve this - we need to consider the focal lengths in use to judge a suitable maximum exposure time for steady shots

3) The aperture and ISO settings will also have to support the flash requirements, ie ideally we want to bounce on-camera flash and it may have to be off dull surfaces, so higher ISOs or wider apertures may be needed in order to extract plenty of power from the flash as its output is absorbed by the bounce surfaces

4) The White Balance should be set for the key ambient lighting type, eg tungsten, fluorescent etc - the flash may need to have a colour correcting gel to balance its temperature to the camera-set ambient colour temperature

5) Because we can expect to be moving around or shooting from different angles, our bounce distances may change frequently and therefore ideally we would want to use automatic flash exposure control, ie P-TTL, and this will be adjusted as needed with Flash Compensation.

6) The P-TTL flash exposure will only affect the foreground subject elements, the extent of which depends on how wide the bounce angle is and your Flash Compensation choices - if you want to balance the ambient light with bounced flash then around 0FC should be about right. Choose a negative FC (eg -0.7 - -1.7) to create a subtle fill-in effect instead (this will work only if your bounce angle can illuminate the 'off-side' shadow side of the faces)



Lets get down to some specifics now! I went equipped with the K7 and Pentax AF-540FGZ flash, which was on the camera. I would be turning the flash head around to bounce onto suitable walls beside or behind me in order to create soft and directional lighting. The lens was the DA18-55 1:3.5-5.6 AL WR, and I was going to be shooting wide mostly, between 18-30mm.

I was expecting tungsten lighting in my pub, so I was prepared to use the tungsten WB preset and then a CTO (orange) gel on the flash head to balance my flash output to the camera setting. But when we were seated at a large bay window table I discovered that even though there were tungsten lights, they were fairly weak in comparison to the stronger overcast daylight coming through the window. This lit up the table and extended into the pub a bit. The effect with a tungsten White Balance setting was this .....





You can see the blue cast mainly in the foreground, and it tapers away to a more yellow tone into the background. This is because the daylight fades from the window and in the background the tungsten lights are the main source, so there the tungsten setting looks OK. But I can't have my foreground looking blue, so I had to switch to a daylight setting. This created natural tones around the table area ....





The background now becomes more yellow, but I'm not worried about this as it has a nice warmth to it which suits the pub scene well. I still wanted slightly warm skin tones though, to look like they were natural under the lights, so I attached a 1/2 CTO gel to my flash head.

Regarding the main camera exposure settings, I was shooting wide angles, between 18-30mm, so I was looking to have my longest exposure time around 1/30th - 1/45th sec, which with my Shake reduction should ensure everything is steady.

I had to consider my widest suitable aperture as well, which on this lens was f3.5, but for better quality I chose f5.6. So when aiming into the room, the darker part, in Manual mode, I looked at my exposure scale and chose settings that underexposed this area by -0.7 to -1.0 stop. I needed to dial up the ISO to 800 at f5.6 to give a corresponding shutter time value of 1/30th sec. I then kept this fixed in Manual mode.

So my initial ambient camera settings were ISO 800, F5.6, 1/30th sec

The next step was to look for suitable bounce surfaces for the flash. There were only two walls nearby, at each side of the bay window around our table, and they were a muddy green/grey wallpaper, so not very reflective, but fortunately it was not likely to create much of a colour cast. My 1/2 CTO gel should ensure a warmth to my foreground flash-lit areas. However I would be needing plenty of power from the flash to bounce effectively from fairly low mid-toned surfaces, and so the ISO of 800 was a good setting to help with this.

Here's one of the first shots including the flash ....





The flash here is bounced directly to the left of the camera and slightly up, so the flash light is coming at the subjects from almost a 90deg angle from the left side of the picture. You can see the catchlights which are to the right side of the kids eyes, and the bounce surface is quite large creating a wide fill- in across the whole table.

The Flash Compsensation was 0.0. Overall I varied the FC between -0.5 and +0.5, but generally the P-TTL automatic exposures were accurate and provided a good mid-toned level over the table and on the subjects faces.





Zooming in closer was no problem and there was minimal need for FC adjustments ....





In these closer shots the flash is bounced to the right and slightly upwards from the camera position, providing a strongly angled but soft spread of light coming from the subjects front left ......





The ambient settings had to be changed when turning around and shooting towards the window ..... here I quickly dialed the exposure time down to 180th sec (maximum sync speed) which reduced the brightness of the outside . The other settings stayed the same and the automatic flash exposure would have pumped out more power to fight back against the strong light from outside .... this is also why the colour temperature has got warmer as the gelled flash takes stronger effect, but I liked the warmth anyway.....






The 'aim' (literally!) with the bounced flash was to reflect the light back from the wall towards the main part of the subjects face, and I varied walls and the direction of the head depending on what side of the table I was shooting.....





There was a fair balance in this location between the ambient light from the window and the flash lighting, and this created an even filled-in look on the faces. I was looking for this as I wanted to record the effects of the warm yellowy ambient tones in the background and this exposure setting was inevitably going to capture plenty of the cooler daylight tones and brightness from the window to mix with the flash.

If I was using the same very directional bounce flash approach but without much ambient light recorded, then the effect on the faces would be different, with more directional light and higher contrast on the faces.
Here's an example, a shot from a bedroom but where the ambient light was mostly cut out by the exposure settings ....

in this next shot I used ISO 200, f5.6 and 1/125th sec, so about 3 stops less ambient exposure than in my pub series. So the light is almost entirely from the bounced on-camera flash, which was fired at about 70deg to the left of camera, slightly upwards ....






Note that there is more contrast across the faces with more shadow on the 'off-flash' side. Note also the catchlights even though there is no direct frontal flash ... the catchlights come from the bounce surface which is the wall to the subjects right. Because there is very little ambient light recorded in this image then there is only one main light source, the flash, and so no need to try and balance different colour temperatures, so I only need to use the flash WB preset, with my usual tweak towards the warmer (amber) direction.

These examples are simple and casual family shots, but the principles of the exposure and colour balancing techniques are exactly the same for larger venues and formal shots .... weddings, parties, events etc....anywhere where you want (or need) a mixture of ambient and flash light, and need the flexibility of positioning and quick response that on-camera flash provides. You just need to stay near walls or other suitable hard surfaces for bouncing directional light at your subjects, a large soft light source that avoids the direct harsh look and tell-tale shadows of straight on direct flash.

I hope that this has been interesting for those shooting indoors and wanting to mix flash and natural light ..... please comment and raise any questions or experiences you have in different situations .....

Nigel McGregor
My Guides to the Pentax Digital Camera Flash Lighting System : Download here from the PentaxForums Homepage Article .... link
Pentax K7 with BG-4 Grip / Samyang 14mm f2.8 ED AS IF UMC / DA18-55mm f3.5-5.6 AL WR / SMC A28mm f2.8 / D FA 28-105mm / SMC F35-70 f3.5-4.5 / SMC A50mm f1.7 / Tamron AF70-300mm f4-5.6 Di LD macro / SMC M75-150mm f4.0 / Tamron Adaptall (CT-135) 135mm f2.8 / Asahi Takumar-A 2X tele-converter / Pentax AF-540FGZ (I & II) Flashes / Cactus RF60/X Flashes & V6/V6II Transceiver

Mag07

Link Posted 26/02/2016 - 17:21
Just stumbled upon this thread in my quest to find some flash using tips and this write up with supporting images is absolutely brilliant. Should be a sticky for newbies like me Seeing the results of your actions in form of photographs made it extremely easy to understand. Thank you so much!
'Photography...it remembers little things, long after you have forgotten....' (Aaron Siskind)

McGregNi

Link Posted 27/02/2016 - 10:00
I'm very pleased you stumbled on it .... Not sure why but it seems there is very little interest in this sort of thing

I am glad you found the ideas useful, and even though its a fairly routine sort of situation, it is very easy to get bad flash shots in this sort of environment. I am sure that the approaches and techniques can work well in many types of indoor /mixed lighting situations.

Thanks for your kind words Maj07
My Guides to the Pentax Digital Camera Flash Lighting System : Download here from the PentaxForums Homepage Article .... link
Pentax K7 with BG-4 Grip / Samyang 14mm f2.8 ED AS IF UMC / DA18-55mm f3.5-5.6 AL WR / SMC A28mm f2.8 / D FA 28-105mm / SMC F35-70 f3.5-4.5 / SMC A50mm f1.7 / Tamron AF70-300mm f4-5.6 Di LD macro / SMC M75-150mm f4.0 / Tamron Adaptall (CT-135) 135mm f2.8 / Asahi Takumar-A 2X tele-converter / Pentax AF-540FGZ (I & II) Flashes / Cactus RF60/X Flashes & V6/V6II Transceiver

derek897

Link Posted 27/02/2016 - 10:12
Not sure how I missed this first time around. I too find the real life examples a huge benefit, in understanding the differences. I have always found Nigel to be the go to guy for any flash related questions, and his in depth flash guide invaluable.
Cheers Nigel.
Derek.
I know what i like, If not always why.

McGregNi

Link Posted 27/02/2016 - 17:18
Hi Derek, I'm glad you've seen it now also .... Todays a good day for it to resurface, at least here in Southern England where the weather should surely prompt many to get studying up ready to take their cameras and flashes into some nice warm pubs!

I know you've seen the guide also, and it includes Pentax specific details of the techniques covered in this thread here .....

So this may be a good place to mention that the newer, better, 2nd version of the PentaX Digital Camera Flash Lighting System Guide is available, which includes a lot of new information on the latest Pentax flashes, plus expanded wireless coverage, and other things as well ....

You can download the new edition here, and I recommend it as a good improvement over the original guide .....
http://www.pentaxforums.com/articles/photo-articles/pentax-p-ttl-flash-guide-upd...
My Guides to the Pentax Digital Camera Flash Lighting System : Download here from the PentaxForums Homepage Article .... link
Pentax K7 with BG-4 Grip / Samyang 14mm f2.8 ED AS IF UMC / DA18-55mm f3.5-5.6 AL WR / SMC A28mm f2.8 / D FA 28-105mm / SMC F35-70 f3.5-4.5 / SMC A50mm f1.7 / Tamron AF70-300mm f4-5.6 Di LD macro / SMC M75-150mm f4.0 / Tamron Adaptall (CT-135) 135mm f2.8 / Asahi Takumar-A 2X tele-converter / Pentax AF-540FGZ (I & II) Flashes / Cactus RF60/X Flashes & V6/V6II Transceiver
Last Edited by McGregNi on 27/02/2016 - 17:22

derek897

Link Posted 27/02/2016 - 18:30
Cheers Nigel. I shall peruse it at my leisure
Helpful as ever

Derek
I know what i like, If not always why.
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