Last month we looked at studio lighting systems and how simple and effective Studio Flash is to use. If you missed that you can view it by clicking here. In this months session we are going to look at one of the worlds greatest mysteries the Flashmeter and then well take a look at some of the most popular lighting accessories.
A flashmeter works in pretty much the same way as the lightmeter in your camera except that it measures the amount of light produced by a flashgun. When using studio flash you normally only need to worry about the aperture that should be set on your lens. When using cameras with a focal plane shutter (35mm SLRs and some medium format cameras) you must ensure that the shutter is open long enough for the flash and therefore you must set the correct shutter speed on your camera as recommended by the manufacturer. Often this will be indicated on the shutter speed dial or in the users manual. Dont worry that the speed may seem a little slow, the fast flash duration will freeze most subjects and cope with any camera shake.
This is a typical flashmeter, you can see that the controls are quite simple. The positioning of the controls will vary from make to make but essentially they all work in the same way. At the top, the all-important on/off switch, next the mode button. With this meter it will not only read flash but also continuous light as well, so the mode button switches between flash, flash with cord and daylight. As you can see from the display this meter is set to flash with cord indicated by the flash symbol and a little c. Set to this mode it enables you to plug the sync lead (or cord) from the flash, into the socket on the bottom right and by pressing a button on the right edge of the meter the flash will fire. The alternative flash mode requires you or someone else to actually fire the flash head manually.
On the display itself you can see the T symbol is set to 60, which is 1/60th second shutter speed. The F is showing 0, this is where the correct aperture will appear when the reading is taken. The ISO button under the display enables you to set your film speed and is used in conjunction with the up/down buttons also on the right hand edge of the meter.
There are two ways of taking a light reading. The first is the Reflected Light method and this is what is used in your camera. The meter measures the light reflected back off the subject and therefore when using a hand-held meter it should be held at the camera position pointing at the subject. The second method is Incident Light. This is where the meter reads the light actually falling on the subject and the meter is held at the subject position pointing back to the camera or main light. With this method a domed diffuser is used over the actual cell (the white dome at the top), which reads light from a very wide angle and gives the total light from all light sources falling on your subject. You can also use a flat diffuser, which means that you can take readings from just one direction. Simple flashmeters start from around 50 and combined daylight and flashmeters start at about 100.
The pulse of light from any flash is raw light with very little or no control. The accessories shape and control the light to create a pleasing ambiance, enabling nasty shadows, red-eye and poor definition to be avoided. The most popular lighting accessory and usually a first purchase is the umbrella, a very inexpensive and easy way of making your light softer and more flattering.
The single most important thing to remember with lighting is The Bigger The Light Source The Softer The Light. Umbrellas are a quick and easy way of making a light source bigger and therefore softer. They come in different finishes normally Silver, White and Translucent.
1) Silver. The most efficient. A very reflective sparkly light, great for young people and glamour.
2) White. A black backed white umbrella is still quite efficient as no light is able to pass through it. It gives a softer more diffused light. Great for babies and general use.
3) Translucent. My favourite, you can use this single skinned nylon umbrella in two ways. Firstly in the normal position it gives a very soft delicate light but quite a bit of it goes through the umbrella and is wasted. Secondly by turning it around and using it as a shoot through umbrella it gives a wonderful soft diffused light similar to a softbox or window light.
A second most useful purchase would be a reflector panel. The Prolinca range of Pop-up reflectors is available at attractive prices starting from well under 20.00.
Using just a single flash head fitted with a brolly and a reflector panel you can create very pleasing portraits, which are vastly superior to those available with even the most sophisticated on-camera flashgun.
Next we will look at how to set up portraits with one, two and three lights and the softbox and snoot.
Further information on many of the products mentioned can be found at www.theflashcentre.com.
Chris Burfoot 2002
For more great techniques on studio lighting click on the rest of the series below.