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Lighting Experiment

November 24, 2013  •  2 Comments

Flash Lighting Experiment

I have seen a lot of photographers modifying the light output from their flashes using a Sto-Fen, and to a lesser extent a Gary Fong Lightsphere, both of which I have. I have also read the opinion of many photographers that light modifiers are not necessary and serve only to eat up battery power. Personally I have had success with the Sto-Fen at wedding receptions and even in real estate photography. Since I have never seen a comparison between using either of these light modifiers compared to using a bare flash, I thought I would take it upon myself. I started out by only wanting to take a few pictures of this Christmas Cactus. While I was at it, I decided to try a few different things.

Here's my disclaimer: I never set out to make a full-blown test, and although this may not be applicable to many situations, in the absence of any similar evaluation (that I know of) I think it effectively shows some differences between using these flash modifiers and not using any. I am sure there are other test elements and parameters that I've overlooked, but hopefully you will find this useful.

The Test

Compare the results with the use of a Sto-Fen, a Gary Fong LightSphere, using the built-in catchlight reflector, and no light modification. Compare

Test Method

For each use case, take a test shot with the flash pointed straight up (1), the flash point forward 2 clicks (2), and the flas pointed forward 3 clicks.

Test Parameters

  • Camera mounted on tripod. Flash on-camera.
  • Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark III with latest firmware
  • Lens: Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM
  • Flash: Canon Speedlight 580EXII
  • Flash Mode: ETTL II
  • Shooting Mode: Aperture Priority
  • Shutter Speed: 1/200 sec
  • Aperture Value: f/5.0
  • ISO Speed: 100
  • Metering Mode: Evaluative
  • Picture Style: Faithful

The room was lit by natural light and an overhead ceiling fan light (incandescent). The ceiling is a vaulted ceiling, about 9' over the subject and is painted white.

Test Procedure

Take three shots of subject with each test group. Test Group = Flash modifier + different flash angle (3). All photos shot in RAW, converted to JPEG using Lightroom 4.4 with no modification.

Test Results

(clicking on each photo will open it in a large size for better viewing.)

  Flash Angle = Straight up Flash Angle = Forward 2 clicks Flash Angle = Forward 3 clicks
Flash with no modification No Mod_1No Mod_1No Light Modifier. Flash Straight up. No Mod_2No Mod_2No Light Modifier. Flash tilted 2 clicks forward. No Mod_3No Mod_3No Light Modifier. Flash tilted 3 clicks forward.
Flash with Catchlight Reflector Extended White Card_1White Card_1Catchlight Reflector (flash), and no light modification. White Card_2White Card_2Catchlight Reflector (flash), and no light modification. White Card_3White Card_3Catchlight Reflector (flash), and no light modification.
Flash with Sto-Fen attached Sto Fen_1Sto Fen_1Sto-Fen, Flash Straight up. Sto Fen_2Sto Fen_2Sto-Fen. Flash tilted 2 clicks forward. Sto Fen_3Sto Fen_3Sto-Fen. Flash tilted 3 clicks forward.
Flash with Gary Fong Lightsphere attached LightSphere_1LightSphere_1Gary Fong Lightsphere. Flash Straight up. LightSphere_2LightSphere_2Gary Fong Lightsphere. Flash tilted 2 clicks forward. LightSphere_3LightSphere_3Gary Fong Lightsphere. Flash tilted 3 clicks forward.

Analysis

Not surprisingly the color reproduced with the flash using no modification and the flash using only the catchlight card is the same. Similarly, the color reproduced with the Sto-Fen and the Lightsphere is the same (or VERY close). In my opinion, the photos taken with the light modifiers produced a more natural and "cleaner" result whereas the "naked" (no modifiers) flash shot favored a warmer result. This was like caused by the overhead lighting. The photos shot without either of the light modifiers are brighter, which is confirmed by the histograms. Also visually and confirmed by the histogram, of the "naked" photos, those using the built-in catchlight card are brighter, especially on the tops of the leaves than those shot with out the card extended.

Comparing the Sto-Fen shots to the Lightsphere shots, in my judgment the Lightsphere produced softer shadows, but the Sto-Fen produced more highlight separation. This is also confirmed comparing the histograms.

Looking at the chair back on the left side of the photo, in all cases the shadowing was minimized or eliminated when the flash was pointed straight up. The least amount of shadowing was realized without either the Sto-Fen or LightSphere. In addition, the only test shot that did not produce a catchlight/reflection on the flower pot was the shot with no modification and the flash pointed straight up.

With regard to the color, I easily adjusted the "naked flash" photos to nearly match the Sto-Fen and Lightsphere photos using the auto white balance feature in Lightroom.

Conclusion

In the end, I think that the best shadow detail was produced using no modifiers and the flash point 3 clicks toward the subject. However, this also produced the harshest shadows. I also think that, in this test anyway, the use of the flash without any assistance, in ETTL II mode produced the best all-around result from highlight to mid-tone to shadow. In retrospect, it would have been a good idea to place a color/grey balance card in the photo as well. Plus there was light reflecting from the window behind the flower which most definitely affected the results. However, it was the same reflection for all four flash test groups, so I think that the test results are still valid.

I'd love to hear your opinions, so please chime in and let me know what you think.

Jim

 


Comments

2.rzr219(non-registered)
One key is white balance. If you use any type of mod you will need to set to manual otherwise the photos will not be correct. To me this is the most important setting of all that many overlook because they are rushed. When shooting events, I use wireless systems and place strobes on stands around the room and run A,B and C slaves this way. So you will never miss a shot because of low lighting. Light is key, I also work with Video and light is your friend. Low light can be great if you correctly set up, if not it will be horrible. I have used many different mods on camera, I have found the simple is the best. Bounce when I can or just slide the bounce card and shoot at a 45 angel. Most important all manual, I need complete control so I know what I am going to get. Everyone is different, but never let the camera do all the work IMHO otherwise you are the same as everyone else.
1.Warren Hamilton (The Digital Eye, LLC)(non-registered)
The most significant point I think is harsh shadows. Photoshop can tweak almost any color or lighting situation, but you cannot un-produce a harsh shadow very easily. I do not use any of the attachments mentioned. I specialize in sports photography, and shoot at a lot of other events where I want to minimize the use of a "distracting flash." I shot one event recently were someone complained about the flash, but it was necessary because it was an indoor event. The "house" wants low light ambiance, but video and photography cannot survive without light.
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