The right light

A flash can be used for not only bringing light to dark situations, but to bring two distinctly different light values – such as one very bright, the other very dark — closer together. In photographic terms it’s called fill-flash, usually used to fill-in shadows created by a harsh outdoor sun, especially at midday.

I shot a portrait of Dr. Shiraz Buhari in his clinic in Stockton during an interview with Record reporter Joe Goldeen. His office was small, not too much larger than some closets I’ve seen. As he sat at his desk, behind him was an east-facing window covered with slatted mini-blinds. It was morning and light poured in through the glass. I closed the blinds, but the strong sun still gushed in.

(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 70-200mm @ 102mm. Exposure: 1/125th sec. @ f/ 5.6. ISO: 200)

If I adjusted my camera’s exposure for the light coming through the window, then Dr. Buhari would be underexposed – meaning he’d be too dark — and become a silhouette (a cool looking picture, but not appropriate if I wanted to show what he looked like). The exposure for the window was f/5.6 at 1/125th of a second.

(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 70-200mm @ 102mm. Exposure: 1/60th sec. @ f/ 2.8. ISO: 200)

If I adjusted my camera for the doctor’s face, the window would be too bright and the overexposure would affect the rest of the picture, causing a loss in contrast. The exposure for Dr. Buhari was f/2.8 at 1/60th of a second.

(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 70-200mm @ 102mm. Exposure: 1/125th sec. @ f/ 5.6 w/ flash. ISO: 200)

There was a difference of four stops of light and to bring them closer together I needed to use a strobe. An on-camera flash would have left a shadow on the wall and blinds behind the doctor, but the Nikon D300, as well as its big brother the D700, has a great feature. It can trigger any current Nikon Speedlight flashes wirelessly via an infrared beam (OK, any Nikon camera can do that with the use of the SU-800 wireless Speedlight Commander Unit, but the D300 and D700 have that feature built-in).  This setup is similar to the one photo editor Craig Sanders recently wrote about. Click here to see that column.

I positioned myself outside of the tiny office and placed a Nikon SB-800 Speedlight on a shelf to the left of Dr. Buhari (his right) just inside the door. I was able to use the exposure of the window so it wouldn’t blow out, exposure-wise, and the flash was able to illuminate the doctor.

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