Not Your Everyday Banana

by Bart Arondson

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I've been taking a lot of photos at night, using an attached flash. The photos are generally pretty good, however I've noticed that there is quite a bit of glare on subjects faces (especially when they have been dancing and are a little sweaty). What are the best ways to cut down on this glare?

Example of glare

I'm using:

  • Nikon D70s
  • 50mm 1.4f nikor lens
  • Sigma EF-500 DG ST Flash
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3  
Sounds like you need 'Footloose era' John Lithgow to ban dancing in your town. No more sweaty kids in your pictures... ;-) –  Jay Lance Photography Mar 5 '11 at 1:55
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8 Answers 8

up vote 12 down vote accepted

Unfortunately, when people start to get all specular on you and the venue is large and dark (dance halls, large clubs, or outdoor venues with no way to use ambient lighting) there's no real substitute for size. What it boils down to is a choice between glossy-looking people or dorky-looking photographer.

You can improve the pictures very slightly by using a small diffuser, but nothing that would allow you to be just a person in the crowd is going to be large enough to keep people from looking somewhat party-damaged. If you want them to look fresh, you need to use something big enough to overcome the specularity, and there's just no way to disguise something like that.

If you are there specifically to take pictures, then you probably wouldn't look too very weird with a largish softbox on a flash bracket (and by largish, I mean something like the Photoflex Litedome or the Westcott Mini Apollo, both at 12"x16"). If you're out for an evening with friends, however, they're going to have to be the sort of friends who accept you for who you are despite the unfortunate photography thing.

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The choice between better photos and looking dorky is surely one every photographer faces at some point in their lives! –  Matt Grum Mar 5 '11 at 10:12
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I assume not using the flash is not an option you would consider, obviously that would do it.

You can bounce the flash by angling it towards the ceiling or a neutral color wall. That will diffuse the light and reduce the directionality of it.

Sometimes this is not an option, such as for a high or colored ceiling. In this case you should probably add a diffuser to your flash (search for 'flash diffuser' or 'Gary Fong').

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+1 Or Stofen for a speedlight diffuser. Failing that, nothing like some white paper held on with an elastic to act as a bounce card. –  John Cavan Mar 5 '11 at 3:59
    
note: I believe you mean diffuse, not defuse (see also). I'll assume it was just a typo (especially since you got "diffuser" right, later). :) –  lindes Mar 5 '11 at 7:07
    
@lindes - Typo corrected. Thanks! –  Itai Mar 5 '11 at 17:03
    
Cool, you're welcome. :) –  lindes Mar 5 '11 at 19:27
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  1. Do something to soften the flash output. Either put a diffuser in front of the flash or bounce it off of some sort of reflector (doesn't have to be fancy -- a sheet of copier paper can do wonders).
  2. If at all possible get the flash off of the camera. Even a foot away can/will make a huge difference. A number of companies make brackets to hold the flash farther away from the lens. I'm not fond of them personally, but they're a lot better than nothing.
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For point 2, see also strobist lighting 101 -- a much longer answer (especially if you follow it up with the rest of the strobist content), but also potentially quite helpful (except perhaps to your wallet ;)) –  lindes Mar 5 '11 at 7:11
    
Flash brackets are a real pain in the butt -- until you use something that's actually good at diffusing the flash adequately when there are no reflective surfaces available, like a 12"x16" or 16"x16" softbox (for example, Westcott's Mini Apollo). They're just a bit much to hand-hold. –  user2719 Mar 5 '11 at 7:18
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Specular highlights from flash can be reduced simply by dialing down your flash, or closing down your aperture. Ambient light, the continous sort of light you will have in your image, is controlled by your exposure length, but as flash is instantaneous, only aperture controls the ratio of ambient vs. flash illumination in your photos. If your image is too dark after either dialing down your flash or closing your aperture, you can probably still gain back a stop or two by raising your ISO if you are using a DSLR. If you have access to a flash cable, use it to get your flash away from your camera, though this is less to eliminate glare and more to put the right shadows in your photos.

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+1 For reducing the amount of light coming onto the sensor! –  fmark May 11 '11 at 10:13
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One trick I will never forget is to bounce the flash off your hand. it does 2 things:

  1. bounces light
  2. it warms the light a little, due to your fleshy tones

It would create a slightly better aesthetic to the image, and make the person not look so cold. In a cramped environment it can be an image saver. Just don't have the flash on full power (read flash gets hot).

I have a 55cm (22") reflector which can easily be used for bouncing. A friend has a 12" which would be more ideal for a sweaty night club. The beauty of the smaller "fleckys" is they can fold down quite small, so you don't have to be too obvious walking around. Just whip it out, take the shot, tuck your flecky under your arm and walk off.

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I would advise to find a surface to bounce the flash from. Ideally it would be ceiling; if it's too high, then a nearby neutral-colored wall / piece of furniture / window / your sleeve / another dancer next to you (please avoid bouncing from someone's face, okay?).

I would stress the importance of shielding the flash with a black foamie thing or at least a black card so the dancers would not be exposed to any light coming directly from flash, only bounced light.

You'll find the bounced light more natural when it is directional. For that, try to find a bounce surface that is not directly in front of you, but slightly on a side; sometimes using a snoot or even maximum zoom of flash might help to keep the bounce area from spreading to wide (which would lose the directionality).

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I would use a off camera flash with some kind of diffuser. This would help immensely. Also using a lens hood sometimes helps. Just so that you can avoid flare and extra spillage of light.

But the best thing is to bounce it off something. Maybe a card on top or the roof. Basically your problem happens when you shoot the flash direct at the subject.

When i have shot in dance parties and stuff, I found the off camera flash extremely useful. I use remote triggers.

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The power of the flash is adjustable - play around with dialing it back a bit so that you illuminate without being overpowering. A small diffuser (Gary Fong, etc.) is also very helpful.

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