Small Flash: Drama Lives in the Shadows

[tps_header]There are plenty of things to love about small flashes; however, one aspect that can be seen as a drawback is the relatively small and very directional light they produce. We seek to “correct” this through the use of modifiers like umbrellas or softboxes to create a larger, softer kind of light to flatter our subjects. While this approach is great for many portrait applications, sometimes what the image needs is that pinpoint of light and the stark shadows it can create to draw out the drama in your shot. Let’s talk about how this can be achieved with flash settings and the aid of tools, such as a grid and a snoot. 

Most small flashes give us some degree of built-in control when it comes to focusing the light they emit. The latest top-of-the-line Nikon Speedlight can zoom in to a very narrow 200mm, providing a constricted and farther throw of light. To embrace this unique light of the small flash and take it a step further, we look to employ a couple of even more-focused modifiers: the snoot and grid. A snoot is essentially a cone or tube that funnels the light from our flash and focuses it into a narrow beam, producing a spotlight effect. The light from a snoot is usually circular and produces a very hard edge where the highlight abruptly shifts to shadow. This effect is very noticeable and can be seen where the shadow produced falls onto the background. A grid acts much in the same way, except the grid is composed of many small snoot-like holes breaking up the beam, so the resulting spotlight has a much softer edge. This is why the highlight-to-shadow transition is more gradual. 


Step One

I decided that mimicking the old Hollywood film noir-type photo-graphs would be a great way to demonstrate the contrast and impact you can create in an image by using less light as the main light source. Shooting in black and white or converting to black and white is a useful exercise that allows you to really key in on what your shadows and highlights are doing. By removing color from the equation, the contrast just pops out.Remember that drama lives in the shadows and that tension between light and dark helps to create a dynamic image. 

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