Joe McNally

Mix­ing a bit of blur with a burst of flash

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It’s a time-hon­oured ap­proach to es­tab­lish two zones of gov­er­nance in a photo, one con­trolled by fast flash du­ra­tion, and there­fore sharp, and the other gov­erned by a con­stant light source, re­sult­ing in

cap­tur­ing mo­tion. The hard part is ex­per­i­ment­ing with how one falls off and the other picks up, and with tak­ing care to make sure, for in­stance, that the flash is lo­calised and doesn’t snuff the mo­tion pos­si­bil­i­ties that you are try­ing to cre­ate with the steady source.

I’d say hit­ting that sweet spot is like thread­ing the eye of a nee­dle, but that’s too much drama. It’s never com­pletely per­fect, and lots of frames go south in search of one where the mo­tion is just sub­tle enough, and the sharp­ness is com­plete. It’s just ex­per­i­men­ta­tion and the will­ing­ness to move lights around un­til you get some­thing that works. In the pictures here, there are ac­tu­ally two steady sources – one warm and the other blue. They’re tucked into the corner, cam­era left, light­ing the veil. This is blown by a fan, as dancer Natalie strikes a pose and faces into two Speed­lights.

Kill the spill

The flash source is a Las­to­lite II 40-inch Octa soft­box. You can put two Speed­lights into it, and fit it with a grid to con­trol spill, which is es­sen­tial for this shot. This source is just beau­ti­ful on a con­sis­tent ba­sis, so is now part of my travel kit. Al­ways goes.

The big im­age is shot at f/11 and 1/15 sec. The smaller im­age is the same shut­ter speed at f/8, which is why there’s a bit more mo­tion in the veil, and a lit­tle tinge of blue. At f/11, the blue light kind of got squashed, as I re­call. Every­thing has some sort of mod­i­fier on it – the flash source has an egg crate, the hot lights have barn doors. Spill and slop­pi­ness is the en­emy. Keep the lights focused, try not to spill light on the floor, and con­cen­trate on im­age sharp­ness and the ex­pres­sive­ness of your sub­ject. The veil will do its thing in the breeze, and you just have to hope to catch it in an elo­quent, flow­ing way. Oh, and shoot a lot – many won’t work.

Lots of frames go south in search of one where the mo­tion is just sub­tle enough, and the sharp­ness is com­plete

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