Many photographers like to shoot low key portraits with an all black background. Some achieve this by buying a black muslin and a background stand and placing their subject in front of it. The only problem with this is that if you are shooting out side of your studio, carrying around a background stand and muslin can be a real pain. When recently approached by Adorama to host photography workshops, the first idea that came to mind was teaching people to use high-speed sync to eliminate the need for both pieces of equipment while getting the same result. Since the entire workshop was not recorded, I figured I’d give everyone a quick recap of how this technique works. As long as you have a camera and a speedlight (or hot shoe flash) that features high speed sync, you can get the same effect in the picture up top by following these steps:
- Set the camera to Manual Mode and change the settings so that when you take a picture, the entire image is completely black. This can be done by shooting at a low ISO, a very small aperture, a very fast shutter speed or some combination of all three. (Make sure you are aiming at your subject. Changing the direction of your lens may change the amount of light in your picture)
- Change the settings on your camera to enable the High Speed Sync Function. (Nikon users will see Auto FP in their settings. Canon users will see an “H” with a lightning bolt next to it.)
- Turn on your speedlight/flash (I usually have it on manual for more control) and determine the amount of power to use to properly light your subject.
Yes, that’s it! Now that may seem really easy, but that’s because I haven’t told you the downside. When shooting with high speed sync, your speedlight is not flashing once. There are actually several bursts of light and to make sure your flash doesn’t burn out, the power is limited. That means the light will not be as bright, nor will it travel as far. To compensate, just kick up the power a stop or two higher. Now if you’ve tried this and are not getting the results you want, you might want to:
- Separate your subject from any objects. The light from your speedlight may bounce of off walls, ceiling, shiny objects or furniture and create ambient light in your background. Make sure your subject is a good distance from any surface that can reflect light.
- Use a grid on your speedlight. Grids are modifiers that focus the light that is emitted from your speedlight. Just remember that this will produce harsh shadows on your subject.
- Make sure your equipment can support high speed sync. The best way to do this is to check the manuals that came with your camera and speedlight (boring, I know) or try looking it up on the internet. Google and YouTube should be your best friends.
Grab your gear and give it a try! The next workshop at Adorama will be on Steel Wool Photography and I am also planning an outdoor event so we can actually try it live! To sign up for either of these events, check the NYC Photographers MeetUp group here.