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I've been tasked with some event photography this weekend. Although the event will be held inside, the color of the walls prevents me from using bounce flash, so I have to use direct flash with a single Nikon SB-900 strobe with a D700 body.

I'd like to avoid the "passport photo" look, but I was wondering what I can do maximize the effectiveness of a single strobe. I have a small softbox and I'm considering a flash bracket, but I don't know how much that would help. There will be many people at the event so I can only bring enough equipment that will keep me mobile without banging into people. In what ways can I make the light as pleasing as possible?

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It does depend on what coverage is needed. If you have been asked to get everyone as they walk on stage, my advice is shoot on camera and get the shot.

Otherwise, When faced with that situation I have bounced, with a small reflector hand held just over the flash.

Pocket wizards or the cheaper Photix mean you can do off camera lighting. I have shot a few wedding receptions with a light on a stand, which I have moved through out the night. Speaking of wireless I have heard that the D700 can be a master, but I have no experience with that.

If you are considering wireless, then you will need to ask the event co-ordinators if there is a way to do so without being in the way.

As to the normal oncamera, it would be best to diffuse it somehow. your small softbox.

You could get a TTL cable and hold it at arms length.

  • Thanks for the answer. How do you handle holding the camera with one hand and the flash with the other? Is there a guide for where you should hold the light? And how do you balance the weight of the camera and lens with only one hand? – Daniel T. Oct 19 '11 at 3:11
  • Joe Mcnally in his book Hot Shoe Diaries has examples. Look on amazon, there is a preview of his book (Look inside). You want page 45. I searched for "grap that camera and hold on tight" then next page. P.S. I own that book, worth getting. He uses the arm holding the flash to support the camera, and looks through the view finder with his left eye. – Stonjie Oct 19 '11 at 3:17
  • lastolite.com/brolly-grip.php this is a great little option if you want to go the TTL cable route. Provides a fairly compact portable way to diffuse the light with a more comfortable way of holding it – Dreamager Oct 19 '11 at 14:50
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If you don't mind spending a few dollars before the event, there are a couple of options that will help take your flash up off the lens axis and make the source bigger:

  1. Gary Fong Light Spheres
  2. Honl Speed Snoot which can be configured for bounce.

If you don't want to really spend money, the second option can be made pretty cheaply with foamies (specialty paper for kids). I have a write up on creating a foamie bounce on my website and it's very easy to do.

  • I like your clear construction details on the use of DIY materials for light control. – smigol Oct 21 '11 at 15:21
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If off-camera flash (OCF) isn't an option, and you're not trying to light a great swathe of space, then reducing the flash power is one way to avoid the harsh flash look. Dialling-down the flash output by two-thirds is a good starting place. The National Geographic Photographer, Gerd Ludwig wrote an entire book entitled "Minus 2/3" about doing just that. Take a look: the results speak for themselves.

Of course, you can combine this simple technique with feathering the light, gelling, and/or using a small softbox or diffuser to give you a range of options.

"Feathering", if you are unfamiliar with the term, means to angle the flash a little away from your subject so the subject just gets a lick of light from the edge of the flash's field of coverage. It's similar to dialling-down the flash output, but provides a graduated light.

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