A Recipe for Flash

Think about it. If you’re not doing flash in total darkness, you’ve always got more than one light source. Mostly, it’s the sun and it’s illuminating something. Modern DSLR or mirrorless camera systems comprise hard- and software that aims for a balance of flash and ambient light. You can rely on them for “good enough” results, but after a while, you will want to take creative control of this balance. After all, influencing light and shadow, photography, you know, nudge, nudge, wink, wink …
I had occasion to practice this when I got another Profoto flash unit, the A1. It’s their smallest flash but still shares many capabilities with the bigger flash heads. Plus, it can be used as an on-camera flash! What will they think of next? 😉
So, it may be a heavily overpriced alternative to a Nikon Speedlight and as such, it does all a Speedlight would do in TTL-B mode. But that’s selling it short. It also acts as a commander for Profoto’s Air TTL system. You could adjust and fire off a whole studio full of Profoto flashes with it. But wait, there’s more!
Take it off the camera and it will act as a slave flash in this Profoto system. From the B1X purchase, I already had a wireless Profoto Air TTL (N) commander. But wait, there’s more!
The A1’s flash head adapts light modifiers, they click on with magnets. Most of them save for a mini-softbox and the gels come in the original package.
So, this is what I’ve been trying to wrap my head around the last few days and this is what I found. The video above demoes it, but it’s in German. So here it is, blow-by-blow:

  • You set the camera to manual exposure and use the metering pattern you deem most useful for measuring light reflected off the background. I recommend center-weighted or spot.
  • You set the Profoto A1 to TTL. There’s a switch on the side dedicated for that. Switches are good.
  • First (in the video) we try on-camera flash. You measure ambient light off the background and manually set the camera accordingly. First creative instrument here, you can underexpose to drown the background in darkness or overexpose to blow it to an airy light bo’keh-scape.
  • You let the flash do it’s TTL thing and see what you get. If you don’t like what you see, you adjust the illumination of your main subject with the wheel on the back side of the A1 flash. If you like what you see, you flip the switch to manual and this way lock the last TTL main subject exposure.
  • Then you’re free to direct your model or whatever. But don’t change the distance as long as you have the flash in manual.
  • For grab-and-run shots I would leave the flash on TTL and have an eye on the background’s exposure from time to time.
  • Light modifiers can be used, but only the bounce card (for highlights in their eyes when you bounce the flash off a ceiling), the zoom (built into the head) and the wide-angle diffusor (clicked-on) make sense with the flash on camera.
  • Taking it off-camera is where it gets interesting and creative. You need an Air Remote TTL wireless commander for that, or another A1. The first is cheaper.
  • Light modifiers make more sense with off-camera flash:
  • The bare head zoomed to tele position and far away from the main subject creates an edgy illumination with hard shadows. Think grid.
  • Zoomed to wide-angle position and still far away from the subject so that some of the flashlight gets reflected off the walls and ceiling creates a softer illumination that is still directed.
  • The next step towards a softer illumination comes with the dome. Put it near and above the subject and we get this bare-bulb effect. Further away means softer.
  • The warm morning light coming in around the edges of the open window is preserved.

    The warm morning light coming in around the edges of the open window is preserved.

  • Bounce your flash off (preferably white) surfaces to your heart’s desire! This is what I did in the shot above, off the left wall.
  • Control the background’s exposure with the manual settings on your Nikon, control the subject’s exposure with the Air Remote TTL commander’s settings. Groupwise, if you have more than one flash.
  • This way, we solve the problem of balancing ambient and flash illumination and we get it under our creative control. A host of new creative problems opens up …

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    2 Responses to “A Recipe for Flash”

    1. Slinging it | Mostly Black & White Says:

      […] it holds a Pro Nikon DSLR (without the battery grip) with 24 – 70 mm f/2.8 lens on it plus Profoto A1 flash, gels, light modifiers and Air Remote TTL N. I wouldn’t have thought that possible, but […]

    2. Shooting a Wedding | Mostly Black & White Says:

      […] the sun essentially, that didn’t shine on this overcast day. Nick was camera right with the Profoto A1 with the diffusor dome to flash-fill the shadows. Unfortunately, I ordered him too close and […]

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