Capturing Passion and Magic

August 08, 2010

Liven Up A Speech with an Off-Camera Flash

Eric Flint

Speeches are, visually speaking, boring. No matter how eloquent the speaker, it's still a guy speaking. Unless the speaker is incredibly dynamic, or the overall scene is wonderful, you're stuck trying to get something good out of a person speaking into a microphone, and likely hiding behind a podium.

So, there I am, trying to get something interesting out of Eric Flint's Guest of Honor session at the North American Science Fiction Convention. No podium, thank god, but basically it's just a guy sitting in front of a microphone talking. Eric's an interesting speaker, but he doesn't gesticulate wildly, or make funny faces when he speaks.

The stage lighting was 1/125, f/2.8 @ ISO 1600. If you shot him straight on, the background was OK, but if you moved around to the side to get angle that separated his face from the microphone, the backgrounds were absolute crap: piles of unused chairs, ladders and other equipment.

What to do? Flash to the rescue.

Since folks in the audience were popping away with their flashes from the front row, I figure no one would really notice one more, especially if it was tight and far away.

So I set up a a single Canon 550ex on a radio trigger on a light stand about 40 feet or more from the stage, well behind the audience. I put an 8-inch Honl snoot on it to control the spread and set the flash at 1/2 power. I placed the flash off to the side, so it would sculpt Eric's face if I shot him head on, and so it wouldn't catch the stage lighting supports and throw their shadow across his face.

That produced f/4 @ ISO 640, which on my Canon 50D produces much better images than ISO 1600. And when I moved around to the side, like in the shot about, it lit him dramatically and killed off that nasty background, giving me sweet, pure black.

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