Those who wish to practice their off-camera flash technique or simply create a successful concept shot to energize their portfolio, should seriously consider practicing the arrangement with themselves as the subject.
Using off-camera flash (OCF) for the uninitiated is often a very daunting prospect. It was definitely for me when I was learning. The pressure to work efficiently and smoothly with a subject (especially a paying client) can be immense when juggling the complexities involved in the process. You can decrease this during your learning phase by practicing with yourself as the subject. Even someone with some experience using off-camera flashes and strobes can benefit from this habit if they plan a concept shoot with a professional flair to make sure they’re on point when the day comes, having already solved many technical challenges in advance. while going at their own pace instead of feeling rushed.
I realized early on that using artificially introduced light for my portraits and commercial work was how I could really set myself apart from my local contemporaries. At the time, few local shooters used the OCF workflow, and a good majority advertised themselves specifically as strictly natural light photographers. Not wanting to limit myself in this way and wanting to stand out from the crowd, I immediately began the process of investing in OCF equipment and studying how to use it through books and free online education. . I found no shortage of teaching materials, but the techniques and mechanics of OCF have things that are often confusing as a beginner, and I also quickly realized that it was something I I was going to have to practice a lot.
So what did I do? A new idea for a shot every day, I had to practice and make it the subject. Through the use of a tripod and a 10-second timer, wireless remote, or smartphone camera app, one can perform calculated and thoughtful tests of their shooting concepts. OCF view in a stress-free situation. The camera app option is probably the best option if your brand of camera has one available that is reliable and lets you adjust your camera settings remotely and see through the camera. lens from your phone. You can shoot, reshoot, and shoot some more to get the perfect result without anyone breathing down your neck, well worth any inconvenience you might have going back and forth making your adjustments to your lights or camera, and back to your place in the shot.
This practice made it easy for me to learn how micro-adjustments to light direction and distance affect a photo. This allowed me to slowly improve my light modifiers. It allowed me to try out every little hunch and theory I had without any pressure on time and results. This kind of unfettered, uninterrupted creative learning is, in my opinion, one of the best things you can do for your portrait photography. It definitely paid off for me. My eventual (and now standard) use of OCF in my client work did exactly what I suspected – it made my work stand out above others. When I say “stand out” I don’t mean better, I just mean different, although I think using OCF ultimately allows you to push the boundaries of a shot that was only taken with available light.
Once I was stuck in an airplane hangar with classic cars waiting for the rain to stop so I could film an episode of a TV documentary series. Instead of scrolling through social media, I spent the next four hours placing four flashes in various locations to create a dynamically lit scene. Each time, I activated a 10-second timer and experimented with the optimal arrangement until I felt good with the shot I got, mentally noting how each change affected my end results. Four hours of this led to an immense improvement in my knowledge of how a poorly lit environment can turn into something spectacular with the correct application of the lighting introduced.
More recently, I made myself the subject of a test for a general shooting concept that I was planning to use in an upcoming workshop I’m running on my off-camera flash workflow. I wanted to have a concept shoot prepared to allow my workshop participants to apply the techniques I teach them, and since I was also bringing in a professional model for the shoot, I wanted to iron out the issues in the concept so that I wouldn’t don’t do. must when the day has arrived. This time, a friend and fellow photographer, Cory Madsen, helped me through the process so I could forego the tedious 10-second timer. By the end of the night, I felt good about the fluidity of the filming and really liked the test result itself.
Working under high pressure is the fate of any professional portrait photographer, and the anxiety that can arise from unexpected technical challenges can be a major obstacle on the road to a successful shot. However, by using yourself as a practice subject, you not only gain greater proficiency in using the OCF, but also the added benefit of a better overall perspective on your subjects’ experience. This allows you to connect, bond and communicate better with them. It literally makes you a better photographer on both sides of the lens at the same time.