Behind the Shot — Cengage Testimonials

I always appreciate a good behind-the-scenes post. I have learned so much from other photographers who are kind enough to share not only the technical details behind the shot, but their thought processes during the shoot as well.

Before I get into the details of the above shot, allow me to share two things —

First, since I’ve learned how to trigger a flash off-camera, lighting the scene in front of me has been my default mode when shooting pictures. There are definitely times when this… um, compulsion has made me miss a number of shots. But I don’t think I’ll be ‘reformed’ any time soon.

Second, when it comes to lighting (especially editorial-type pictures as the one above), I aspire to use light elegantly. I want it to play its role, but I don’t want it to call too much attention to itself; ironically hoping for a final image that doesn’t look like it’s been lit at all.

 Building on Ambient

If I want ambient light to show through in the image, I start by shooting a quick picture to gauge how it will look like. On manual mode, I set my ISO to 200 and my aperture to f/6.3, which for me is a good balance between getting images with less noise and not having to work the flash at too high a power for a faster recycle. My choice of aperture should also allow me to hold all (if not most) of my subjects in focus.

After these have been dialed in, I point my camera at the scene and meter off a shutter speed that gives me an exposure that is about two stops under (about 1/80 s), which results in the image below. This shot gives me an idea as to how much of a contribution the ambient light will make to the scene. I especially wanted the ‘wedge’ of light on the left to show through on the gray textured wall behind the table. And since my ambient light is also acting as my fill light, the picture also gives me an approximation of how deep my shadows will be.

Once I’ve established what my ‘baseline’ exposure will be, I bring the light into the scene.

Mimicking Existing Light

I opted to use a single flash (YN-560) shot through a white umbrella. The flash is mounted on a 6.5-ft light stand and triggered wirelessly (with Cactus V5’s). I prefer to manually set the power on my flashes when I shoot, since I’m willing to trade flexibility for consistency of output.

I start at 1/4 power and fire a test shot. I can see based on the image at the back of the camera that I may need to bump flash power up a bit. I set the flash to 1/2 power, walked it farther away to ensure that my subjects are going to be evenly lit, and positioned it angled down and opposite the light coming through from the left. I fire another test shot and get the image below.

With everything set up, it’s all a matter of populating the table with books and students to recreate a study-hall-type atmosphere. A couple of shots in, I decide to use a slower shutter speed of 1/40 s to let more of the ambient into the scene, which you can see in the final picture shown at the start of this post.

Hopefully, it is an image that begs the question ‘Are these students really happy that they’re studying?’ and NOT ‘Was this picture lit with flash?’

Thanks for reading.


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