I found an interesting fashion photograph and I want to recreate the effect.

Copy of images

I know for a fact that the pictures are taken in complete darkness using a Canon XSi, the built-in flash, and some post-processing. I don't know what settings to use on my camera to get this degree of sharpness in complete darkness. Any suggestions? There seems to be a vignette effect at the bottom, but I don't know how to create it. I know this is very amateur photography, please don't bash it.

Thanks in advance

  • \$\begingroup\$ Hi Melissa-- just curious, why do you think your question would get bashed? \$\endgroup\$
    – mmr
    May 13, 2011 at 14:59

6 Answers 6


One of the photos has been flipped horizontally (see how the ends of blouse collar fold over each other).

The shadows reveal that the camera was on its side, and pop-up flash was used. Probably on left side (so the picture on the right is flipped), because you'd need additional support under lens and it'd be awkward to reach shutter the other way.

A short focal length to get the pop-up flash vignette so bad. Implied from this, camera is quite close to model.

The shadow in the lower part - shadow of the table the camera was supported by.

Post-production and focusing has already been well described by other answers.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ +1 Excellent observations! That's a simple way to get the vignetting, too: use a very wide angle lens. \$\endgroup\$
    – whuber
    May 13, 2011 at 12:58

The easiest way I can think of to emulate a shot like this is to do the following:

  1. Put the camera on a tripod to minimize any inadvertent movement during the shoot.
  2. Choose a high enough f-stop that you can be assured of a crisp image throughout the depth of field.
  3. Use autofocus to set the focus with the lights on.
  4. Switch to manual focus
  5. Turn the lights off.
  6. Shoot away.

From a post-production standpoint the biggest thing that looks like is happening is boosted contrast. In fact, that may be the only post-production effect going on... It may have even been done via setting the camera to a 'Vivid' mode (or a similarly named setting, depending on your camera brand of choice). Also, it's likely that the grain in the photograph is caused by using a very high ISO. Alternatively the grain could be simulated in post-production as well.

It looks to me like there isn't any post-production vignette going on, the vignette is simply caused by dropoff from the onboard flash. All in all I think this would be a relatively easy shot to recreate- the majority (or possibly even all) of it appears to have been done in-camera.

Finally, the tripod is probably optional if your f-stop is set high enough... The idea of expensive camera equipment + darkness just leads me to the natural conclusion of 'make the camera as stable as possible so if I accidentally trip and fall over something in the dark like a klutz, at least the camera doesn't go down with me.' YMMV. :-)

  • \$\begingroup\$ PP-wise, I'd say it was a straightforward Overlay or Soft Light layer, with perhaps a desaturated Multiply layer Levels adjusted to bring the light back up. \$\endgroup\$ May 13, 2011 at 8:38
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I don't think that Canon XSi's internal flash has so steep dropoff that it won't be able to cover bottom 10% of the image without using an ultrawide lens, which was not used. Unless it's been covered on purpose. \$\endgroup\$
    – che
    May 13, 2011 at 14:05

Use manual focus.

Use high ISO (or add noise in PP)

Underexpose a bit.

Might try cross processing effects, or else play with white balance. The colours look a bit orange to me.

If your flash doesn't produce the circular vignette, fashion a "snoot" out of rolled up paper, Pringles tube etc and fire flash through that

  • \$\begingroup\$ I'd guess they used a snoot. Strobist probably has something pretty similar to this somewhere on their site. \$\endgroup\$
    – D. Lambert
    May 13, 2011 at 1:02

With NIK plugins and the bleach bypass filter. That is in my opinion the easiest way. (This particular filter is a part of the Color Efex Pro package)

As for the vignette; i believe this is actually a hood on the lens blocking the flash.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Wouldn't a lens hood leave slightly curved shadow? \$\endgroup\$
    – Imre
    May 13, 2011 at 14:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ depending on the shape of the hood I guess. Could also be a centre crop of the image. Looks very much like a lens hood-flash effect though. It could be some other obstruction such as a table. I doubt this is a post processing burn. \$\endgroup\$ May 13, 2011 at 14:21

Disregarding focusing and technical problems.

  • Lots of contrast in post processing.
  • Either high ISO or adding noise in PP.
  • Warmer white balance
  • Possible warming split tone effect
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ I'd say the shadows look exactly like a pop-up flash in portrait orientation. \$\endgroup\$
    – Imre
    May 13, 2011 at 7:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ Ahh I didn't think of that. Why the down vote (whoever it was) though?? \$\endgroup\$ May 13, 2011 at 11:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ It was entirely accidental. Could you edit your answer so I could remove it, and I'll delete this comment? \$\endgroup\$
    – Uticensis
    May 13, 2011 at 14:58
  • you don't need a tripod, but you could use one to get the same framing across different shots
  • just use a high /f number aperture to close get enough depth of field (not that you need that much)
  • any shutter speed will do fine in complete darkness, if there's some light go up to the sync speed of your camera (usually 1/200s).
  • high ISO to get some noise in shadows. I would say 800 but it could be different, just not too low (100 = nearly no noise) or too high (depends on camera, anyway on an average low-end DSLR iso 3200 is guaranteed to lose a lot of detail, e.g. hair)
  • like someone said, it's impossible for the built in flash to fail so bad you get 10% of the image black, if you don't have an ultrawide lens. Much easier, shadow the flash or the lens with some piece of cardboard; even easier, do it in post-production.

Post production is already dealt with nicely in other answers. Did someone mention sharpening?

I think the highest voted answer is a bit misleading, that's the main reason for mine. why can't you AF in the dark? to my knowledge, cameras which don't have a light for that just use the flash. why switch to manual focus before turning off the light? that would not be (always) accurate, as people are not statues.


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