Creative lighting is one of my favorite aspects of portrait photography. Here’s how careful control of ambient light combined with a single Speedlite and $25 wireless triggers created this unique silhouette image…
For this photo, I wanted to silhouette the model and foreground against a sunset sky and lighting umbrella
Controlling Ambient Light
The first step was determining the amount of ambient light to include. I do this before even turning on the flash, and there are two key points to remember.
First, aperture and ISO will affect both your ambient light and the flash.
Second, because your flash is instantaneous, only the ambient light is impacted by shutter speed. This means you can allow more or less ambient light by increasing or decreasing your shutter speed while having no impact on your flash. There is an explanation of this principal on strobist.com
that I won’t repeat in detail.
I went to 1/250th of a second, my camera’s fastest flash sync speed, to eliminate as much ambient light as I could. As you can see in the test shot above (without the model or flashed umbrella added in yet), this shutter speed cut the ambient light on the grass and trees while producing the desired exposure on the sky. I then selected an f/4 aperture to make things easier on my flash.
Off Camera Flash and Wireless Triggers
Next it was time to light up the umbrella.
I attached a Canon 580EX II Speedlite to the lighting umbrella pole using gaffer’s tape (a photographer’s best friend). A Yongnuo RF-602C wireless trigger set was connected to my camera’s hot shoe for triggering and to the Speedlight via PC sync cable as a receiver. The Yongnuo receiver can also be attached directly to a Canon Speedlite hot shoe mount if desired.
The first image had all sorts of light from the flash spilling onto my model which ruined the silhouette effect.
I flagged the Speedlite with a Honl Snoot
to direct all the flash upwards. This is a great little device that conveniently connects to a Speedlight using the Honl Speed Strap
Now it was time to blow out the umbrella and create the strong contrast needed for a silhouette effect. No camera exposure changes were required. I stayed in manual mode at f/4, ISO 100, and 1/250th of a second, the correct exposure for my desired background. Only an adjustment to the flash power was needed. Thanks to a low f/4 aperture, I only required about 1/3 power from the Speedlite
to produce the image below: