Idea and setup
The weather has been exceptionally nice this summer, or at least this weekend. July started with an average of 6 degrees Celsius, but in the last few days the temperature has been around 23 degrees. Today, the sky was blue, and our boy wore a cute hat. I wanted to shoot a portrait of him against that very sky.
The sun was pretty high, so I definitely wanted fill light. I hooked my Nikon SB-800 external flash to the camera using a coiled cord (Nikon SC-29). I told my wife to grab him under his arms and lift him up while I stood below behind and shot the photos, while holding the flash in my left hand.
Since children and wives seldom are patient when it comes to photography, I had to find the exposure prior to the shooing. I wanted the sky as blue as possible, and to achieve that without a polarizer filter, I thought underexposing the sky would do it. I turned the knobs on the camera to manual, and set the shutter to the fastest flash sync speed (1/250 sec). I pointed the camera to the sky and found that f16 was a suitable aperture. Any aperture wider than that would overexpose the sky, so I was balancing on the edge. Due to diffraction I didn't want to use a narrower aperture. ISO was set to the lowest value; 200.
To find a proper exposure for the face, I set the camera to spot metering and set the flash output to TTL (automatic flash exposure). Even if the camera is set to manual, the flash was still dependent on light readings from the camera. By setting the metering on the face, the flash would know exactly how much light to emit.
I quickly found out that something had to be changed. The test shots looked dull, the sky was almost white and the quality of the light was nothing like I had imagined. Here are some examples:
The first one is overexposed since I accidentally bumped the thumb wheel, so the exposure was increased with one stop, but the other two don't look any better. The fact that it suddenly started to become cloudy didn't help much. Yes, the boy was cute, but that won't pay the rent. It was time to soften up the light.
There was still a small blue spot on the sky, so I ran inside the house and found a translucent 43 inch umbrella. I hooked it to the flash with the umbrella bracket. I had never held the flash and umbrella in my hand like that.
It was quite heavy working like this. The camera with lens and battery grip weighs about 1.5 kilograms and the flash with umbrella, cord and bracket about the half, but it was windy, so the umbrella got quite heavy. But I found a big advantage doing it like this. I could follow every movement and be prepared for unusual poses. And that happens when shooting infants.
Anyway, I used the same exposure as with the bare flash head, and I feel the result was much more pleasing:
Since I had to shoot against another spot on the sky, the sky was probably darker, even if it didn't look like that during the shooting. That's why the sky looked so much better on the latter photo. And the quality of the light looks better due to the soft light. In Photoshop I increased the contrast with a slight S-shaped curve and and darkened the edges a little with a vignette.
Do you see the warm glow on the right side of the face? I didn't see that until I looked at the photo on the computer. I wondered a little why that fortunate accident had happened, since the umbrella was located on camera left. I went outside to take a look at the surroundings, and I discovered this yellowish wall, which is the fence connected to our porch:
We stood at this wall during the shooting. It was on my right side. The sun was on my left. The sunlight was probaly reflected on this wall, and gave my son this glow on his face.