Most people just point their camera and flash at their subject and fire away. This shot was taken in just that manner, with an SB-800 mounted on the camera hot shoe facing forward:
You can see in this shot that the lighting is very flat and harsh. It looks like a flash picture taken with a point and shoot camera.
One of the simplest things to improve a picture is bounce the flash off of another surface, such as the ceiling or a wall. Keep in mind, if the ceiling or wall isn't white, it will cast the color of the surface! This shot was taken with the bare SB-800 pointed straight up at the ceiling:
This is a big improvement over the original image. The use of a diffuser over the flash can improve the image even further. One of my favorite's is the Gary Fong Lightspere. There is an excellent Nikonian's article on the Lightspere available that goes into more detail. This image was taken with the lightspere pointed straight up at the ceiling:
You'll notice slight differences between this and the previous image. The shadows in the lightsphere shot are a bit brighter and less harsh, since the lightsphere is throwing most of the light up, but some straight out, too.
The reason the bounce and lightspere images look better than straight flash is they are spreading the light over a larger surface. The larger and more diffuse the light source, the softer edges between light and shadow.
Another common lighting technique is the use of other modifiers, such as umbrellas or softboxes. This image was taken with an SB-800 bouncing the flash off of a 45-inch umbrella on a light stand:
There doesn't appear to be much difference between this image and the lightsphere image, but I wasn't trying to achieve a dramatic difference. The umbrella does offer greater control over the light, and does not require a white surface nearby to bounce the light off! This is a fairly inexpensive setup to put together:
And a basic lightstand ($19.95). All three pieces are less than $50.
In order to use a setup like this, you'll need the following equipment:
- A Nikon Speedlight that can function as a Remote speedlight (SB-600, SB-800, or SB-900)
- A device to act as the Master Commander on the camera. This can be:
- A Nikon camera with a pop-up flash that supports the commander function (D70, D90, D200, D300, D700)
- An SU-800 Commander
- Another SB-800 or SB-900 acting as the Master
- A basic understanding of the Nikon Creative Lighting System
For more information on the Nikon Creative Lighting System, see Mike Hagen's new book.
To learn more about portrait lighting, there are many good books on the subject. I would recommend as a starting point, The Master Lighting Guide by Christopher Grey. You can order these books thru the Nikonians website which will click through to Amazon.