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Let There be (additional wirelessly controlled portable electronic) Light! With Canon 600RT

Canon 5D MK3, 50 1.2L, with 600EX-RT triggered by ST-E3-RT
Click to see Portfolio 

I've always held fast to the notion that there is nothing more beautiful of a light source than the natural light and I still do. I sometimes like to at least try to prove myself wrong. The reason being is that I believe that your ideas can, and should change… At least welcome the notion of that change.

As it is true with many of my photographic ideas, some of the ideas have roots that goes way back.  I was flirting with the idea of shooting nature with electronic flash. Yes, that's sacrilegious to many including myself, till I realized that while believing in something strongly is good, holding onto something too strongly can lead to stagnation. And as we know, stagnation leads to death! Yes, Death! (repetition for dramatic effect).

Canon 5D MK3, 50 1.2L, with 600EX-RT triggered by ST-E3-RT
Click to see Portfolio 
So today I headed out to the woods to test out this idea. Armed with the Canon 600EX Flash, using the ST-E3-RT to trigger the flash wirelessly. I was finally able to try this technique.

What I tried to do here is not to disrespect the natural light in any way, but to establish a partnership with it (oh crap, here he goes again…).  What I mean is that, I wanted to use the flash not in a such a obvious way that it hijacks the natural light. I wanted to use it subtly, to a point where it may not be even noticeable to the viewer.

Technique

Then what is the point? My goal was to use the flash to support and bring out the subject matter, nothing more.  In the first photo, the left side of the tree was lit by the setting sun, from slightly behind. And the right side of the tree was lit by the flash, also slightly behind at an angle. I tried to balance the intensity of the light. What this did was bring out the thin curving tree out from the dark background. You can see it better with the photo below.


I'm way off to the side to light this tree. I almost never mount the flash on my camera to shoot. (Oh crap, sounds like stagnation setting…).

What I did was using the aperture, shutter speed, and iso to determine the exposure of the ambient light (sunlight).  I closed the aperture down to f13 to create a deeper depth of focus so I can clearly see the trees in the foreground and the background. Then I fiddled with the shutter speed (1/200th) to get the background dark, but with some texture in the shadows and enough light on the left side of the tree.  So I was mixing the ambient light with the flash in a seamless way so they will mimic each other. As I said, a partnership… Doesn't sound so fruity now does it?

Now hopefully this setting is within the capability of the 600EX flash, which it was. Then I walked off to the right side of the tree about 30 feet or so and started to test out the output using manual setting.  I know this flash does have amazing ETTL setting where it can just automatically select the output, but I being such a control freak, I opted for the manual setting. Oblique angles like this can really push the IQ limit of these digital devices.

By the way, the iso was set at 800 so it will be sensitive enough for  the flash to reach from a far distance with the relatively small aperture. The reason why I preferred some distance was that I didn't want the closer tree and the farther tree from the flash to have too much difference in brightness. The farther I step away from the subject, the difference in the intensity of the light between the farther and closer subjects in relation to the flash, becomes less.  Why did I do this? So it doesn't look too obvious like a flash, but more like the sun.

This is why the light intensity at LA and NY is roughly same even though one is closer to the sun at a given time. But if you take 3 steps toward your floor lamp, the light gets noticeably brighter on your face.  That's because the sun is so so so far away from the earth.  But you say LA is darker... Its the smog, not the distance.  Its physics. Please refer back to your high school notes.

Canon 5D MK3, 50 1.2L, with 600EX-RT triggered by ST-E3-RT
Click to see Portfolio 
I had my camera on a tripod. I would compose, set the exposure of the ambient light (usually underexposed about 2 stops so you can see the effect of the flash better). Then I would set the manual setting on the flash (this depends on your iso, aperture, distance, flash zoom setting, and the angle of attack…phew!) basically try it out since its digital, you can tweak all you want. The tree's not going anywhere.

Then walking off to the side, holding the flash (no stands), I point at the subject and press the "REL" button to trigger the camera and the flash. Yes, from the flash, not from the camera.  This is the best thing ever! Without this function, I would either need to drag somebody along or set the self timer and sprint back and forth. I like to run but not like this.

Canon 5D MK3, 50 1.2L, with 600EX-RT triggered by ST-E3-RT
Click to see Portfolio 
After this test, I realized why I haven't given this a try back in the film days. It would've been a huge pain in the butt! With this modern digital set up with high tech flash unit, I was able to preview the ambient light first, then wirelessly fire the strobe, and see if I need to adjust anything all within 5 minutes.  With film, you're pretty much going into it blind with a lot of bracketing the exposures, tripping on wires, cable releases… We have it nice now. Real nice.

Canon 5D MK3, 50 1.2L, with 600EX-RT triggered by ST-E3-RT
Click to see Portfolio 
Light is light. Whether photons originates from the sun or flash tubes, any kind of light can be very beautiful. For us photographers its about using and appreciating light in all forms. We may have a preference to one or the other but one is not necessarily better than the other. We can all get along.  Let there be (any kind of) light!



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