Sunday, December 8, 2013

Untangling Fill-Flash


In last month's blog post I promised I would share the secret of getting perfect fill-flash shots using the latest generation of Sony equipment (which behave differently from any other camera ever made).  I'll get to that in a minute.  But first, I want to tell you about my latest e-booklet, and how you can get it for FREE!!!


Ways to "Wow!" with Wireless Flash

As most of you know I really love wireless flash and I've used it on a many occasions to turn a blah shot into a "Wow!" shot.  And for years I've wanted to write a separate e-booklet (over and above the content I have in my books) to discuss the topic in greater detail, however the scope seemed a little daunting.  (Have a look at one of my original outlines I had envisioned for this project.)

Wireless flash did this!!!  And learning how to use them is no longer the intimidating exercise it once was.
The approach just felt wrong - it sent the message that you had to understand all this technical stuff in order to use it, which is totally and completely untrue.

So after a few years of the project being on the back-burner, I had an "Aha!" moment: I realized you don't need to understand how a car's engine works in order to drive it, and that the best way to learn to do anything is to just dive in and play with it.  (It's all automatic, after all!)  Once I realized this was the right approach the ebooklet pretty much wrote itself.  That's a good sign.

Great product photography with only one flash!
Great Portrait Photography Too!
So what's my approach?  I present a lot of examples of cool shots you can take with wireless flash, and challenge the reader to duplicate the shot using the equipment they already have.  (The 'learn by doing' approach.)  As the book goes on I introduce new tools (light modifiers, colored filters, multiple flashes) and show what's possible when you add and combine these techniques.  Hopefully, with some early success in the first chapters, the reader will be encouraged to put off buying that next expensive lens and invest instead in these light modifying tools.  Learning light is the single best investment you can make in improving your photography, and I believe this e-booklet represents the least intimidating way to encourage you to jump in and start playing with it.

Have a ball!

As always, your purchase lets you download the ebooklet in 3 different formats: .pdf (ideal for your iPad or computer), .mobi (for your Kindle), and .epub (for Nook and all other e-readers).  You can purchase your own copy here for USD $9.95.


Oh, and the FREE part...

While I believe the e-booklet represents a great value at only $9.95; I'm giving it away for FREE when you subscribe to Cameracraft magazine!  You've heard me mention Cameracraft before -- it's the antithesis of every other camera magazine out there.  With high-quality reproduction and no advertising whatsoever, we (Editor David Kilpatrick of PhotoclubAlpha.com and I) are free to highlight what's really important in photography: The image, the meaning, and the backstory that goes along with it. Its goal is to promote the kind of photography with a purpose and an emotion, and to inspire the reader with examples of various photographic genres.  This is very much an old-school project the likes of which just can't be seen anymore.


Feedback from subscribers so far has been wonderful, and this is your opportunity to see for yourself what so many are talking about.  Subscribe to Cameracraft for one year, send me your receipt, and I'll send you the "Ways to 'Wow!' with Wireless Flash" ebooklet for FREE!!  A double shot of photographic inspiration from people you know and trust.  Subscribe today at http://friedmanarchives.com/cameracraft !  (A magazine subscription makes a great gift, too! :-) )

Untangling Fill-flash 

Although I'm a recovering wedding photographer, I still do my share of portrait and event photography, and for years I knew exactly how to light portraits and group shots so that it didn't look like a flash was used.  The secret was to set your camera's flash exposure compensation to -1.7.  Below is an illustration I used to use in my earlier books which demonstrated this technique pretty clearly.


Interestingly, the Alpha 900 didn't need the flash exposure compensation adjusted, since it seemed to know when it was being used as a fill flash and when it was the sole source of light in a dark room and it would adjust accordingly:

A fill-flash shot straight out of the A900.  Doesn't look like I used flash, does it?  (Of course experts know the tell-tale sign of fill-flash - you can see a tiny bright spot in the eyes if you look carefully.)  
When the Sony A77 came out everything changed.  The flash was horrendously inconsistent and more often than not it would overexpose everything.  I didn't trust it for important assignments where a flash was necessary.  When the A99 came out with its wireless flash delay and tendency to overexpose I threw up my hands and said "The one Minolta guy Sony inherited who knew how to do flash right must have died", and until Sony got their act together I wasn't going to waste time trying to figure out what was going on.  So I kept using my A900 for assignments where I needed predictability, reliability, and consistency.

The first time I used the A77 with fill flash, I realized something was horribly wrong.
Fast forward to today.  Sony has fixed the flash exposure consistency problems with the A77 via a firmware update, and in hindsight I now realize that the frustration I was experiencing was caused by two completely separate things:

1) There was indeed a bug in the A77 which prevented flash exposure consistency in some bodies.  (Again, that's been fixed.)

2) Sony has changed the definition of what they think constitutes "proper" flash exposure for all cameras since the A77: Overexpose your subject by one stop (and in some cases, overexpose your background too!)

Below is a test shot taken with the A99 and F58 flash in auto and Flash Exposure Compensation (FEC) set to 0.  (I don't use the F60 flash for important work (especially if it involves families and kids!) because of its tendency to overheat.)  Looks a little overexposed, doesn't it?

 

And below are some grey card test shots taken with flash which I have shared with you in the past -- as you can see, when everything is on Auto the Sony will overexpose the subject by +1 stop.  And while I used to think this was a bug, this behavior has appeared in every camera Sony has produced since the A77 and so I have concluded that it is intentional and regarded as a "feature".


(The above experiment is what pushed me to recommend "set your camera's FEC setting to -1 to have it work 'normally'" in all of my books for the new cameras.  I still keep it set there most of the time.)

So now that I understand that there were two flash problems in the past, and that one of them has been sorted out, can I now use that new knowledge to get the results I used to get in the days of yore?

Perfect lighting!  These pictures actually look more perfect when you click on them.

(Seriously, click on this one too. )

It looks like the answer is "Yes".  And the logic goes like this: If I had to use a FEC of -1.7 before, and the Sonys are now overexposing flash by +1 stop, it stands to reason that setting FEC to -2.7 on the newer models will give me the lighting I used to get in the old days.  And, as the samples above and at the top of the blog post can verify, this is in fact true!

So I am finally comfortable using the new generation of cameras for important work involving fill-flash.  The only downside is that I'm now finding myself constantly changing the FEC value from -2.7 (for fill flash pics outdoors in the shade) and -1.0 (for all other times).  A minor annoyance but at least the camera is behaving predictably, which is what a professional requires of his or her tools.

Coming Up...

Do the new A7 and A7r cameras display any flash anomalies (exposure and/or wireless flash delay)? I'll find out on Tuesday when mine arrive.  And a few days after that I'm off to Boston, Maine, and then Sequoia National Park so I'll have ample opportunity to put these cameras through their paces, learn their strengths and weaknesses, and write them up in a new book.  Send me an email at Gary at Friedman Archives dot com if you'd like to be notified when it's ready.

Other books which are in the pipeline which should be released around the same time (again, let me know if you want to be notified of their release):

Fujifilm X100s
Olympus E-M1

Will I be writing a book on the new Sony RX-10?  Although the camera appears to be technically outstanding, due to relatively low interest I'm not planning on it.  (But if I get enough requests I can change my mind in a hurry.)

Signing Off...

As the year winds down I hope each of you has a wonderful and stress-free time with family and friends, and that the new year treats you as well or better as the last one.

Sincerely,
Gary Friedman

Seriously, wireless flash can be a lot of fun! :-)

44 comments:

  1. What flash comp should be used on the a55? -1.7 and -2.7? Thanks

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    1. A55 came before the A77, so "-1.7". GF

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    2. What about the A57?

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    3. A57 came after the A77. If you're noticing that your flash pictures are overexposed, then you know it's one of the "new generation". GF

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  2. Completísima la informaciom de la Sony Alpha 99. Estoy muy satisfecho de hqaberlo adquirido.
    Gracias
    http://carlosvalcarcel.blogspot.com.es/

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  3. I am now confused about what to set my A77 to for flash compensation. In a previous article you mentioned setting it to -0.7. Is that still correct for normal flash, and then do I set it to -1.7 for fill flash?

    Thanks

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    1. After more experience with the A77, here are my new recommendations: -2.7 for fill flash outdoors, and -1.0 for situations where the flash will be the primary source of light.

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    2. So your recommendations are the same settings as for the A99. That is interesting since you mention above that the +1 stop overexposure is for the cameras that came after the A77, yet you recommend the same settings for both the A77 and A99. Perhaps the 1.07 firmware for the A77 made it behave like the newer cameras.

      I will try changing to your new recommended settings and see how they do. Thanks for sharing this information which is a very useful update to your A77 book.

      Delete
  4. Should i use the same for Nex6 + HVL-F58AM? (i'm expecting to receive the flash in 2 weeks)

    With the built-in flash i followed your advise, as you said in the book, and i FEC to -1 nd it's perfect

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    1. Yes, this advice applies to every Sony camera made since the A77 (and that includes the NEX-6).

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    2. I can only get to -2 on the nex 6 Gary,
      any ideas
      thanks

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    3. Some of the newer flashes (like the F60) have a Flash Exposure Compensation function on the back, which is additive to what the camera is set to. So you can set the Camera to FEC -2 and the flash to FEC -0.7 and you'll get the same result.

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  5. Gary, even if it turns out that there will be no RX10 book (BTW, Sony seems to have eliminated the dash in the name), if you have a chance to test the HVL-F43M on it, can you let us know about the proper fill flash compensation, etc.? And my A77 still exhibited improper fill flash exposure even with all the firmware updates up until I sold it 3 weeks ago.

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    1. Not sure I'll have access to either as I'm going to be traveling for awhile. Best thing to do is to try my settings and tweak them to your liking from there. GF

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  6. Hi Gary,

    First let me say that I love your blog and your Sony a99 ebook. I began my photography experience with a Minolta SRT-100 back in 1971 and have been a dedicated Minolta/Sony user since. I recently went from an a200 to an a99. I was just beginning to experiment with wireless flash using my HVL-F58M and the built in a200 flash. I knew the a99 didn't have a built in flash, but after reading your a99 ebook I also knew that I really wanted the a99. So my question is, do you think the Sony HVL-F20M flash, mounted on my a99, is a viable method of triggering my HVL-F58 in its wireless mode? What other alternatives do you suggest, if any?

    ReplyDelete
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    1. There's a whole chapter on wireless flash in the A99 book and in it I mention the F20 flash is my preferred trigger (despite its tendency to drain the AAA batteries even when it's off.)

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  7. Great advice as usual Gary. Any recommendations for compensating when bouncing the flash indoors or using a omnibounce? Thanks in advance!

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    1. The same thing I mentioned earlier applies to modifiers as well: If your flash is the primary source of light, set FEC to -1. If it's to be used as a fill light, FEC = -2.7. GF

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  8. Gary, can you confirm whether the A850 performs as well as the A900 in this regard?

    Dude, you are one of the things that make A-mount great:)

    Tim

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    1. Thanks for the kind words, Tim! My memory of the A850 is it behaves identcally to the A900 in terms of flash exposure algorithms.

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  9. I have a Sony RX10 and would be happy to purchase a comprehensive and detailed guide to using it!

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  10. Gary, I have found that the new HVL-F43M does work well on both the NEX6 and A99. I do not need to dial in any FEC on either camera.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Really? Can you email me a picture of a grey card taken with either camera?

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  11. Hi Gary, I wish to thank you for your great blogs. The one about the fill flash is in particular interesting for me.
    I hope, your new book for the Alpha A7 will appear soon.
    I wish you all the best for the coming holidays.

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  12. Hi Gary, I always read your blogs with great interest, thanks!
    It's interesting that you experience overexposed flash images with the A77. I have an HVL-F42AM flash, and always found my images underexposed on my old A700 (especially when using indirect flash as I do very often).
    Now that I have an A77, flash exposure seems spot on for almost every image, especially indoors. Isn't that strange?

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  13. Gary, where exactly do I send my CameraCraft receipt for the free copy of the flash ebook?
    Great blog by the way, look forward to it every month.
    Cheers,
    Mick

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    Replies
    1. Several have asked "Where do I request the Wireless Flash eBook." The answer is: Info @ friedmanarchives dot com. We would appreciate seeing a copy of your receipt for the subscription of Camercraft magazine.

      We appreciate your support of the magazine!

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  14. Hi GF, first congratulations!
    Sorry for my english ...
    My A99 with F60 and F58 slave it works fine on WL, but to add another slave flash is very overexposed, try to use the FEC to -2.7.
    Thank you and God bless.

    Andrei

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  15. Great read on your RX100 book. I have a question. Do i need to turn off image stabilization on that camera when mounted on a tripod? I know for the Canon cameras, it is recommended, but not sure on the RX100... thanks.

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  16. i couldn't find anything on your blog about macro for the rx100, but in your book, i read the cookbook part at the end and it was very good. i was hoping you would've had macro part in that section. any chance you will add that part in with the book? btw, i really like the fireworks part...that will help me come new years eve...thanks.

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    1. Also, i didn't see much difference in the pics i shot in gourmet vs. macro mode. Shooting macro without the mode is also a chore...can't seem to prevent shadows even setting flash at -0.7. i set the aperture at F6.3 and speed at 1/30.

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  17. Mr. Friedman,
    How do i know what focal length i am shooting at when i zoom in or out, all it says is 1x, 2x, etc?..nothing at the focal length that i'm currently at. My NEX shows me exactly where i am at when i zoom in or out, but not sure why my RX100 doesn't.

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    1. Good point. The rx-100 won't tell you. It's never bothered me because I only care about whether the composition looks good to me or not. :-)

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  18. A local photography instructor is teaching a Sony RX100 class by demand request and is using your book as info! It really has helped alot of us. We appreciate it. Keep up the good work.

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    1. Really? Wow! Send me an email and let me know the instructor's name - I'd like to thank him personally. GF

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  19. Hi Gary, How about instead of adjusting the 60 to -2.7 FEC how about using the bounce adapter? I know in the past when I've used the old Stofen bounce adapter it would rob you of 2 stops. Will the F60 do the same thing?

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    1. No, because the camera will notice the 2 stop reduction and increase the flash intensity by 2 stops to compensate.

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  20. I am taking indoor night photos at an award ceremony soon and have found that the RX100 flash overexposes the faces even with the bounce flash pointed up. Without the flash there color in off and the pix aren't the sharpest. Should I just use another camera?

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    1. Try setting the flash exposure compensation to -1 like this blog post suggests.

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  21. Is it possible for a new subscriber to purchase back editions (to #1) of Cameracraft?

    ReplyDelete
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    1. There is! A bound reprint of all 1st year issues is available from print-on-demand publisher Lulu.com: http://www.lulu.com/shop/david-kilpatrick/cameracraft-year-1/paperback/product-21256393.html

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  22. Hi Gary, I attended one of your days when you were last in London. I've just got myself a second HVLF58 to go with my A65 and been playing with ebay umbrellas. I'm struggling to find a good light stand bracket that'll play nice with the 58's hotshoe. Either they are intended for Canon/Nikon or they make the gun think its on the camera and disable wireless - grrr. My flashguns weren't supposed to "bounce" in that way - any suggestions? Thanks

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    1. Hi, Eddie. Please email me privately. GF

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