Getting the background correctly exposed as well as subject using flash

Discussion in 'Exposure Discussion' started by alabdali, Jun 1, 2014.

  1. alabdali

    alabdali Member

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    Hi,

    I understand that I can figure this out using trial and error, however I wanted to know what your thoughts are since I'm new film photography.

    I have a Nikon EM, and an SB E flash, it doesn't TTL flash (it's an automatic flash but not TTL - I don't quite understand how it works since I use a different setup most of the time and I haven't spent enough time with EM). The camera syncs with the flash at 1/90th of a second.

    Hypothetically, it's a sunny day and a landscape you want in focus calls for an f16 aperture and a shutter speed of 1/400 (using a 400 ISO film) and most likely this is what the camera will choose for you anyways (Nikon EM works on Aperture priority only), you set your aperture on 16 (to get the background in focus), however your child is under the shade of a tree and you mount your flash to get his face well lit. Knowing that the camera will choose 1/90 for you, won't that overexpose your background (too much ambient light)? If you change your ISO to (say) 1600, won't that underexpose your subject (child)?

    What do you think?

    Thanks!

    Saif.

    PS: I understand that I have a lot of limitations here, I'm just wondering if it can be done with this setup.
     
  2. giannisg2004

    giannisg2004 Member

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    Overexposing the background is 2 stops is nothing for current negative films.

    Also, your child is your subject matter, not some random clutter in the background.
    Exposure should always be biased to your subject.

    Do you have a lightmeter that does flash?
    Place it on your child's face and point it to the camera, and fire the flash.
    Look what the meter says and transfer those settings to the camera.
    You'll always get excellent results that way.
     
  3. Chris G

    Chris G Member

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    giannisg2004 is right, but this isn't just a film photography dilemma. Balancing ambient light and flash is tricky with film and digital. Newer TTL flash systems make it easier to achieve a balance but you really need to understand the underlying principles at work. A good resource althought very digitally biased is strobist.com, everything there can be applied to film photography. You can use a dslr along side your EM to speed up the learning curve, also as previously mentioned a flash meter is a valuable tool for this. I use a Sekonic L-558 if I have no DSLR with me. One last thing, a higher sync speed is going to help immensely... if you are doing this type of photography a lot or if your are not completely attached to the EM.. consider a FE2 or similar (with a 1/250 sync speed).
     
  4. omaha

    omaha Member

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    I'll second what's already been said, and add that a ND filter can be quite useful in situations like this.

    Bottom line for me is that if you want to take a quick snap in challenging lighting, then the modern TTL stuff (particularly, IMHO, the stuff from Nikon) is simply magic. Works a dream.

    If you want to create a more composed and deliberate photograph, that's easily done too, but it takes more time and care. The essence of the problem is always that the ambient scene has higher EV than the subject. If you can't knock that down with a high shutter speed (you say you are locked in to 1/90s, but the same problem exists with any focal plane shutter camera), then a ND filter is a good option....if you have enough flash power to overcome it on the subject.
     
  5. Bill Burk

    Bill Burk Subscriber

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    Black and white negative film can help you out of this dilemma if you take a moment to consider...

    Your camera chooses 1/90 second for sync speed. So assume for a moment that your EI is about that, say 80.

    If you set your EI at 80 and just take the shot at f/16.

    Choose the fill ratio with the assumption that the film speed is 80.

    Everything will be equally overexposed.

    You can make up for that when you print.
     
  6. alabdali

    alabdali Member

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    I appreciate your input, however I'm not trying to get "some random clutter" in the background. I don't have a light meter that does flash, and I don't think it will help because I'm gonna lose the background. I'm sure it's very useful in other forms of photography :smile:
     
  7. alabdali

    alabdali Member

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    You see, I keep hearing this everywhere. I'm far from being an expert in film photography, but my experience (only a few rolls) is that the skies will get overblown with 2 stops or sometimes less of overexposure. I'm not saying that everybody is wrong, I'm just stating what my experience have been so far.
     
  8. Bill Burk

    Bill Burk Subscriber

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    If the subject you are shooting is in shade and you open up 2 stops to make that look right, then yes the skies will be 2 stops overexposed in relation to the rest of the picture and they will get blown out.

    But if you are looking at a normal shot already and take it 2 stops overexposed, everything is overexposed proportionally and the skies are no worse - in relationship to the rest of the picture.
     
  9. alabdali

    alabdali Member

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    After using film for a month, I feel the same about how a digital camera would speed up my learning curve, except that I don't have one anymore - and I'm afraid it would take the joy away from shooting film in many ways.
    I'm thinking of buying a light meter, however I don't know the difference between the one you mentioned (less than $10 on keh.com) and the ones that cost $100+. I need to do some reasearch on that.
    The FE2 is sitting in my wishlist, I drool over the FM3a and I feel that the FE2 is a cheaper alternative.
     
  10. alabdali

    alabdali Member

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    Thanks Omaha, I love the idea about the ND filters! I just remembered that I have a 1,2 and a 4 stop ND filter that would really help with this. However, I'll have to carry my bulkier but more powerful yongnuo YN 560 III to compensate for using the ND filter.

    Regarding using TTL, I have a Nikon F3HP (heavier than the EM) and an SB 16a flash that TTLs (the flash can be used as a weapon because it's gigantic!) and these are my main reasons why I'm carrying the lighter EM setup while hiking. I should try it though.
     
  11. alabdali

    alabdali Member

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    Bill, I like your black and white idea.
    On your second comment, I agree that its all overexposed proportionally but the difference with skies is that the detail is almost gone, if not totally gone.
     
  12. MattKing

    MattKing Subscriber

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    Fill flash with focal plane shutter cameras is always a challenge.

    And it is even a bit of challenge with leaf shutter cameras.

    You need powerful flashes, and you are forced to work in restrictive circumstances.

    Reflectors make way more sense.

    By the way, I don't think the situation you describe is a fill-flash situation. If your entire main subject is in a large shadow, but you also want to record properly a fully illuminated background, you need to add enough light to replace the shadowed area with full light. That requires movie set lighting, not fill flash.

    Fill flash is intended to fill small areas of shadow that are surrounded by fully illuminated areas. You use it to soften harsh, contrasty lighting, or to provide some localized front lighting to a predominantly backlit subject.
     
  13. omaha

    omaha Member

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    Not exactly Hollywood budget level stuff, but I find myself doing more and more shooting like this...

    JMP_5477.jpg
     
  14. MattKing

    MattKing Subscriber

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    But note, however, that that is with a leaf shutter.
     
  15. Ricardo Miranda

    Ricardo Miranda Member

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    Hi alab!

    In order for you to understand your camera better, this is the way the EM works with the SB-E:
    Nikon tried to simplify flash photography for beginners by making the EM to send the aperture in use on the lens to the flash provided you have an AI lens like the Series E made for the EM. The SB-E has 3 working apertures that you can see on the diagram on the back of the flash. Provided you use those apertures on the lens, the flash and the EM synchronises the aperture in use. It is impossible to do fill-in flash by selecting a different aperture on the flash than the one you have set on the lens.
    The biggest problem is that most Nikon flashes made after the SB-E will make the EM to default to the 1/90th shutter speed and there's no way of selecting a different shutter speed. As soon as the EM senses a compatible flash it will lock the shutter at the flash sync speed.
    In order to be able to use a flash in daylight with the EM, you have to remove that automation from the flash side. If you look at the hotshoe on a EM, you see there is 3 contacts, a larger central one for the X sync, and 2 small ones: one for the ready light and to oblige the shutter speed to 1/90th and a second one for sending the aperture set on the lens to the flash.
    You'll need a simpler auto flash with just a central contact to do this, like the Vivitar 283:
    On your situation of a sunny day, I would use a slow film, say ISO 100 or lower. Set the aperture on the lens that will give a shutter speed of 1/90th or less. Say the EM is happy with f16 in this case. Set the auto flash to an aperture 2 stops lower, i.e. f8 and try to keep your distance to the subject within the range that is shown on the flash for f16. the result is that the EM will ignore the flash and expose the background correctly. Your child will be have just the right amount of light to fill any shadows. You can try a stronger ration and only set the flash to f11.
    That's the way I would do with my EMs.
     
  16. rince

    rince Subscriber

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    I second getting a light meter that measures flash. Getting enough output out of a small on camera flash to compensate for a sunny day might be tricky though, especially when you have to balance color temperatures with gels. If using more complicated setups with larger flash heads is not an option I would use a reflector instead of the fill flash. This should at least bring you reasonably close and allow you to adjust for the exposure difference during printing.
     
  17. Mark_S

    Mark_S Member

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    Your two exposures are independent - first work out the exposure that you want for your subject - which will be illuminated by the flash. This will come out to be a particular f-stop, and the subject exposure will be pretty independent of the shutter speed. Now that you know what aperture you will be using, figure out what the normal exposure for the background is using this f-stop. Let's say that you end up deciding to use f16 for your subject, and for the background to be properly exposed you want 1/30 at f16. Usually you will want some separation between the subject and the background, so to make the background darker, just increase the shutter speed - to 1/60 or even more, if you want the background brighter, then slow down the shutter speed.
     
  18. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser Advertiser

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    +1

    strong flash will fix your situation, or getting a pc cord and an off camera flash closer to your subject ...
    there is a lumedyne kit being sold in the classifieds currently, and it might be the solution to your problem ..
     
  19. omaha

    omaha Member

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    :smile:

    And I'm putting your phrase "movie set lighting" into the book.
     
  20. Bill Burk

    Bill Burk Subscriber

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    My idea is not conventional, overexposure degrades some image qualities, so there isn't a lot of lore saying overexpose on purpose to solve fixed flash sync speed. I'm talking about taking advantage of the very long 'straight-line' section of modern film's response to light.

    What you're thinking about skies won't be made worse with overexposure. If the skies were going to blow out with a normal exposure, they would blow out just the same with overexposure. But if the skies were going to be OK. They would still be OK with overexposure. On a contact print, sure the shot would look overexposed. But when you print down an overexposed negative... the result is the same as a properly exposed negative (except for degraded sharpness, resolution and grain - if you care about those qualities don't take my advice here).