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I'm a Cairns, far north Queensland, Australia professional photographer specialising in travel, editorial and environmental portraiture.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Flash at night

I wanted to post a couple of photos here to show you how I use flash at night. This is a fire dancer show at the entrance to the Night Safari I was telling you about yesterday.

Now you can't use your flash inside but you certainly can outside! Only for this shot I didn't. This is all natural light. ISO 400 f9 at 1/5 second. I used a really slow shutter speed because of the guy in the background. Handheld by the way.

I was actually aiming for a full rotation of his flame sticks but you can see I just missed it by this much. A few things about this shot though that work for and against natural light in this situation.

The first is that because you have such a slow shutter speed you get a nice whirl in the background but the dancer in the foreground is quite blurry from movement - you can see it mostly in his right arm. At least for the ladies his hunky chest is pretty clear!

The other thing is that because the foreground guy's body is well exposed then the flames he's spouting out are so bright that they've gone off the histogram and are totally white. There's no detail there whatsoever. If I had exposed the picture to record the flames properly the guys would have been so dark you wouldn't have seen them. Can't get such a range of contrast in one frame. So natural light has its pluses and minuses.

Now here's the one with flash.

The first thing you notice is that the dancer is nice and clear. That's because he's completely lit by the flash and the flash alone - no ambient light. Remember that flash fires really, really fast so it stops all movement.

Even though my aperture is still the same, and my shutter speed a bit faster at 1/80 second, the flash has done all the hard work.

But how could it be flash if he's all orange you say? My old favourite - a CTO orange gel over the flash to match the colour of the fire. I wanted to have the same look as the natural light shot but the advantage of the flash to freeze the motion and get rid of dancer blur.

In this case there were no whirling background flame sticks so I wanted to go for a different effect.

You'll notice too that because I've got a faster shutter speed (making the overall picture darker) my flames are back in the land of the living. No more white, burnt out fire. My exposure is based on getting the flames right and letting the flash brighten up the darker parts of the picture. Because he's quite close to the background sign the flash has lit up that part as well and makes it look not such a dark gaping background flash shot.

So here's a couple of different alternatives to shooting night action. Natural light, slow shutter speeds and lots of blur or a bit of flash, frozen action and less blur. Or if you really wanted to mix it up you could try your slow shutter speed with a bit of flash thrown in as well. Experiment and see what works.

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