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Faking it with a Speedlight

Sometimes you just come across a scene that has all of the right lighting elements to inspire a photograph.

Example of using a speedlight to imitate real lighting.

Example of using a speedlight to imitate real lighting.


One evening a couple of months ago I noticed my son playing video games in an otherwise darkened room.  I was in an experimental mood, so I just fired off a few quick images of him (mostly to test the low light capabilities of the camera).  The results were less impressive than I had hoped.

Nick playing video games no flash 1 of 4

While the TV or game console may seem to give off a lot of light, from a photography perspective, it is a poor light source.  The best image I could capture of the excitement going on in my family room amounted to 1/15s, f2.8, ISO6400.  Even if I could live with the motion blur around his eyes and the not so bad noise in the image, the colour of the room was dominated by the colour of the walls.  In other words, it was an un-inspiring image and nowhere near the dramatic lighting that I had first observed and wanted to capture.

Speedlight to the rescue:

Not content to move on to other subjects, I saw an opportunity to “build” the image.  I set up a Nikon SB-700 speedlight in a Lastolite Ezybox Hotshoe soft box right beside the TV my subject was focussed on.  I then set my D600 on Manual exposure with an 85mm f1.8 lens at 1/200s, f/3.5 and ISO 100.  Without the flash this pretty much killed all of the ambient light, allowing me to then use the Nikon speedlight in TTL mode to imitate the lighting from the TV, but with an intensity that was more appropriate to photography.  The soft box allowed me to direct the light in the scene.  I feathered the light so as to not hit the gamer with the full brunt of the flash.  I wanted it to imitate the lighting off of the TV.

lighting-diagram-Nick gaming with softbox

Results better than Ambient lighting

On the whole, I think I succeeded in recovering the original lighting my eye had seen, but the camera needed some help with.  The fast shutter speed removes head and eye motion blur and captures the dramatic intensity of the moment.

Nick playing online

While natural light photography is a beautiful thing sometimes, at other times the lighting just sucks for photography.  It is in these moments that a bit of supplemental lighting can help out a lot.


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