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Photography Question 
Graham Noble
 

Avoiding Shadows in Flash Pictures


I've been taking indoor pictures for about a year and a half with a external flash. For the past year I've been using a Minolta Maxxum XTsi with a 3500xi flash. I was wondering if there is a way to avoid the nasty shadows that form behind people when I use the flash. I admit I haven't tried much bounce flash but I have bought a gimic which makes the light softer when it reaches the subject (mini bounce). The shadows are still there but obviously softer. How do professional photographers take the candid people photos without having the nasty shadows. Do I need a different gadget for the flash, or is my flash not capable of doing that.


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11/15/2000

 
Esther Mishkowitz   Do you keep your subject(s) 5 feet away from the wall? Try that and then try it while bouncing the flash at the same time. Take notes and see what happens. Good luck.


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11/15/2000

 
Kate White   Your flash needs to be higher than your subject. If you don't have a white celling and can't bounce the flash, line up your flash and subject. This works for me. I get more shadows on one side of my subject. I hope this helps. I am learning myself. I have bought books on photography but, learned more from sites like this one. I find that I get information as I am ready for it.


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11/16/2000

 
  I have the same problem. I bought an attachment for my camera which raises the flash above the subjects. It flips the flash so that the flash can be raised for vertical shots also. Check with your camera store. I just shot some head shots, and it seemed to work. Keep you subjects away from the walls. If you are using a white background, you can bounce blue light off of it.


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11/23/2000 8:54:54 AM

 
John A. Lind
BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/27/2001
  Graham,
There are a number of guidelines for getting rid of shadows behind subjects when using a flash:

1. Keep the flash directly above the lens. This poses a problem for shoe-mounted and integral flashes when turning a camera vertical. The solution is a flash bracket that either flips the flash or allows the camera to rotate under the flash. This will get rid of the worst problem which is a shadow appearing around the side of a subject.

2. Get the flash far enough above the lens. The optimal distance for the flash tube above the lens is about 8-10 inches, sometimes more if you don't get too close to a subject. This is significantly more than an integral flash and about twice the distance of many shoe mounted flashes. Again, a bracket can get the flash higher. This will help get rid of a secondary problem of a head shadow appearing around both sides of a narrower neck by placing the head shadow below the subject's shoulders in most circumstances. This will also eliminate nearly all red-eye. Be careful about elevating a flash too high. At closer distances, a flash mounted too high will cause unnaturally large and deep shadows in the eye sockets, and under the nose and chin.

3. Keep subjects from being too close to a wall, backdrop or other large object immediately behind them. In spite of mounting a flash higher (about 8-10 inches above the lens), you can still get unwanted head shadows showing around the subject's neck if they are too close to a wall or other large backdrop. Keep subjects about 5 feet or more in front of major objects behind them.

4. Bouncing flash from a ceiling can produce nicely diffused lighting under the proper conditions. However it is not without risks. The first is not enough flash power. Bouncing requires about a 125 guide number or higher. The second is being too close and trying to bounce. The general rule for bouncing is to aim the flash head at a point halfway between the flash and subject. The closer you get to the subject, the more the light will be coming from above. This can cause eye socket, nose and chin shadow problems. The third is not having a white (or nearly white) ceiling, or having one close enough to bounce from. I wouldn't discourage you from trying or using the bounce technique; just remember its limitations.

You may have noticed that most wedding (or similar event) photographers use flash brackets for "on-camera" flash. It has nothing to do with easier camera handling. It makes the camera heavier and handling can be more awkward at times because of the elevated weight of the flash head(s). It has everything to do with shadow and red-eye control.

-- John


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11/27/2000 12:28:38 AM

 
Mark A. Braxton   Graham,

John is telling you some great ideas. Another solution would to use a lighter background for your subjects. Of course this may become a problem if your subject has on light colored clothing.
You could also try using extra lighting and putting some of the light on the wall behind your subject from a side angle. You don't want this light to be too bright. And make sure it's not tungsten, if you use daylight balanced film.
A slave flash and/or multiple flash units is another possibility. A slave flash would be triggered by your main flash but not connected to your camera. Multiple flashes would be more than one flash connected your camera at a time.
The main goal of these ideas is to lighten your background. If you turn on a flashlight in the daytime, do you see the boundaries of its' light?
A helpful book here would be Kodaks' pocket guide to photography. It even has pictures to show you effects of the solutions.
-Mark


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11/27/2000 8:26:56 AM

 
Tiffany Seidel   Try putting a spot light on your subject. Do you see the shadows of your subject? Now move the spot light around your subject. You will notice that the shadow will move as you move the light around.
Hopefully you will find a location for your subject to so that the shadow will be behind your subject rather than on the side of him.


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12/9/2000 4:24:33 AM

 
John A. Lind
BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/27/2001
  I think Mark and Vegastxgirl both have some excellent, additional suggestions.

This might be slightly farther afield than your original question about shadows, but Mark makes mention about light versus dark background, and how clothing color might be affected by it.

For most portrait photography, the darkness or lightness of the background should match the darkness or lightness of the clothing. Not that it should be the same color; there should be some contrast in color. However, light clothing should have a lighter background (called high key lighting), dark clothing should have a dark background (called low key lighting), with clothing falling between the two having a neutral background between light and dark. The reason for this is to draw attention to the person's face, and not the clothing. There needs to be some color, or other contrast, between clothing and background (to define the boundary between subject and background) but it should be subdued, not dramatic.

There are exceptions to this, a notable one being bridal portraits wherein the dress is as important as the bride's face. Most often the bride will choose a low key background to highlight the dress at some expense of drawing some attention away from her face. There are undoubtedly similar exceptions, perhaps in some environmental portraiture wherein the clothing making a statement about the person is as important as their likeness. These are situations wherein the clothing may be as important as the face and deserve drawing some of the attention of the viewer (of the photograph).

These are some additional thoughts to consider in choosing a background not only to reduce shadow effects, but with consderation to what you are attempting to make prominent in the photograph about the subject: face, clothing, or both.

-- John


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12/11/2000 10:58:15 PM

 
Esther Mishkowitz   John: how can you aim the flash at a distance betweeen the subject and the flash if it is on a bracket (to help shadow problem?) thanks


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12/13/2000 6:30:18 PM

 
John A. Lind
BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/27/2001
  Esther,
Sorry I didn't notice your additional question earlier! I must have missed a notice that this thread was continuing.

Some flash units have a head that will tilt and possibly swivel. I have a few like this. I also have a couple smaller ones that do not. You can get a flash accessory for about $20-$30 that has a male shoe on the bottom to mount in the hot shoe and a female on the top for your flash. In between is a "hinge" arrangement with a thumbscrew to lock it down that allows you to tilt the flash upward. A major camera store should have one on their accessory rack. Look for one that's relatively sturdy.

-- John


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2/28/2001 9:53:20 PM

 
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