Here’s how to light your subject, not the audience.
Flash solves so many problems in commercial and event situations – bad down light, uneven light, insufficient light, multi source colored light. But flash can be really annoying to conference audiences, convention goers and social event guests.
Clean flash exposure is so easy to postprocess. Little variance in the color temperature and exposure, as compared to simply upping the ISO and fighting with dark eye sockets and unattractive shadows and irregular light levels.
My secret is a little black box by Ultimate Light Box, the speedlight modifier people. When and where does it work? Always! In conference and meeting rooms, small theaters, stores, hallways, salons, school rooms. Anyplace.
Ultimate Light Box black unit set up with Canon 5D Mark II for unobtrusive flash photography at events.
And there are two ways to use it: direct on or bounce – bounce is by far my favorite, because the results are incredibly natural looking. Almost like no flash at all.
Black Box method one: (when you can't bounce)
Direct on flash with the black box is way simple. Just put the translucent front lens on the box to diffuse the flash and fire away. However the speaker, presenter or subject (maybe a bride and groom) are still going to be distracted, perhaps blinded, by the light no matter that it’s softened with the diffuser.
Black Box method two: (the best way for most beautiful lighting) all images from this shoot click here
If you’re like me, you find yourself 85-90% of the time in venues where the ceiling is light or white paint or acoustic tile, and up to about 20 feet high. This is certainly most wedding and social event venues, meeting rooms and schools. You guessed it; I’m going to bounce flash off the walls and ceiling, usually turning the direction of the black box behind where I’m sitting. Neither front lens nor inner translucent dome is used when bouncing.
That’s right, behind. Why? Think of the path that light will travel from your flash to the subject, similar to how a ball bounces off side panels of a pool table. So where do you want to place your flash? Too close, for instance between you and your subject who is about 15 feet away, and you unwittingly create ugly down light but directing the flash over the subject’s head. By turning the flash head up and behind your camera position (or sometimes to the side as well), you magically create a smooth, attractive, seamless lighting that looks so real you hardly know it’s there.
And neither the subjects nor the audience are disturbed, because no light leaks out the sides of the black box. Just the soft, directional, precisely placed light that makes subjects look great. A slide show presentation going on simultaneously? Your flash won’t disturb that either.
My example is a typical retail store special event – in this case a memorial to the late Layton Kor, vertical wall climbing pioneer of the 60’s, at Neptune Mountaineering, Boulder, Colorado.
Fluorescent panel downlighting (turned off for the slide show portions), no spot lights for presenters or panels. Pretty much impossible without flash. But standard on camera flash modifiers or softboxes would blind the elderly VIPs of the climbing world or annoy the guests who made sizable donations.
Check out my set up, which is easily understandable. Canon 5D Mark II, 1600 ISO, shutter speed 160, ƒ/4, 70-200MM lens, flash power modified on camera to +2/3 stop. Flash head turned backwards and up into the ceiling.
Here's the room layout at Neptune Mountaineering for a simple presenter and slide show event.
Ultimate Light Box black unit in action showing angle of lighting for indirect, bounce illumination that is magically soft and natural, and also retains a directionality and rounding on faces.