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Recommended Off Camera Flash settings for a reception?

Charles Badua , Jun 23, 2010; 03:36 p.m.

I've been wanting to see what settings (Camera and Flash settings) you guys have used for off camera flash in dark receptions. I am also curious as to setting up (do you have an assistant do set up or do you prefer yourself). By the way, for flash settings I'm mostly curious about manual settings. I'd like a general baseline setting for a dark reception (pretty big) that I can adjust up or down dependent on light conditions. My general theory is to start off with 1/16 - 1/32 on the off camera flashes and go up if I need more light. As for camera settings I'm thinking about starting at F 2.8-4, and shutter at 60-100, possibly lower if it's dark enough to drag the shutter. Is it possible to drag the shutter with off camera flashes in a really dark venue? Or is it better to drag the shutter with an on camera flash only? Do you guys recommend a higher aperture (5-9)? Do I need a higher aperture to get the nice starburst effect off the off camera flashes?
My current set up: is an on camera SB900/w pocket wizard (I turn the sb900 on and off depending if I want fill flash or not + I use like the sb900 on camera incase I want to use the low light focus lamps or if I just want general TTL on camera bounce flash, or emergency CLS) and x2 sb600s (fired by pocket wizards) on nanos. I've also used Nikon CLS pretty often with good results (but I only feel comfortable using CLS in smaller venues where the IR signal can travel better), and have used the pocket wizards before in reception (but sparingly). I haven't run into a situation where I've really needed to use both my off camera flashes yet because of the D700's great low light ability, but I keep them around for insurance and want to use them more for creativity and consistency with lighting. I'm thinking I will need them also since I will be doing some pretty big venues later this year, some that don't have great lighting, or have lighting that casts an ugly color.
Hope I haven't asked too many questions =). Thank you for your feedback ahead of time.


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Bob Bernardo - LA area disabled , Jun 23, 2010; 06:42 p.m.

If I was in your situation I'd go to a store or the internet and buy a light meter. Used ones are selling around $125.

Next I would set the flash units up on a 13 foot stand and take some readings using the flash meter.

If you use your on camera flash at F8 the off camera flash units shout be around F5.6. I'd also set them to manual, probably around 1/2 power. 1/32 and 1/16th are too low.

Charles Badua , Jun 23, 2010; 07:59 p.m.

Thanks Bob for the advise! My thinking for the low power flash because I didn't want to kill the ambient light. I'd probably actually be using the off camera flashes to rim light subjects and rely on my camera's light sensitivity to make up the difference. Do you think 1/32 and 1/16 are to weak for that?

Nadine Ohara - SF Bay Area/CA , Jun 23, 2010; 09:20 p.m.

I don't think there is such a thing as one set of settings... It depends on the light levels at the place you are shooting in, and the effect you are trying to achieve.

For instance, if the DJ is shooting colored lights all over the place or there are colored columns of light as part of the decor, bouncing flash all over the place isn't going to preserve the feel of the scene. On the other hand, white rooms can look very pretty with bounced light all over the place (given you don't have the colored lights), and nothing says you can't shoot it one way early in the reception and change it for the frenetic dancing.

I start by evaluating the light level, the environment (size, color, where the activity is) and then add in the effect I want. Then I set up lights. My partial power settings on my manual flashes vary all over the place, depending upon the variables just mentioned. I don't just set them at one place, use one ISO--all the time.

Dragging the shutter--it is possible to drag the shutter with off camera flashes, particularly if using them as rim/accent light rather than bouncing large quantities around. For the latter, it doesn't matter too much how slow the shutter is because the exposure consists of large quantities of flash illumination. I don't see how you can drag the shutter with the on camera flash only. Either you are dragging the shutter or you're not.

Aperture is dependent upon the DOF you want. Yes, you need a smaller aperture to make the off camera flashes go starburst. Test your flash and lens (to some extent, starburst depends on the lens' blades).

Charles Badua , Jun 24, 2010; 12:24 p.m.

Thanks Nadine for the great feedback. Looks like I will have to do some experimenting to get a feel for the type of feel I'm trying to get with my off camera flashes. For the most part I've been shooting pretty conservative in the receptions. Do you have a set zoom preference for your flashes? Do you always set up your light stands even if you possibly don't use them?

Nadine Ohara - SF Bay Area/CA , Jun 24, 2010; 12:43 p.m.

Charles, since most of the time, I use my Sunpak 120Js, zoom is a choice between 2 settings--wide and normal. For bouncing, I set them to normal, for accent, I set them to wide. If using a shoemount with more zoom options, I would do generally the same thing--to bounce, more telephoto, to control the spot of light on the bounce surface, and wider for accent. You can also feather the flashes. I usually face them straight out into the area I want lit, rather than pointed down. The feathered edge actually lights people. This helps light a longer distance while not burning out subjects closer to the flash (within limits). However, my flashes have parabolic reflectors. It isn't as easy to do with shoemounts (but still possible).

No, I don't always set up stands. I use clamps, bungee cords, Velcro--if the place is crowded and I think there might be a liability issue. When I use stands, I sometimes use a sandbag, and I've taped the tips of my stand legs a bright, safety cone orange.

RT Jones , Jun 24, 2010; 01:52 p.m.

and I've taped the tips of my stand legs a bright, safety cone orange.

Every once in awhile I run across an, "Ah-ha". Simple, effective and quite a useful tip.
Now, how do you keep the photographer from tripping over his own stand?

Nadine Ohara - SF Bay Area/CA , Jun 24, 2010; 02:35 p.m.

Ha ha...RT--that one, I don't have a ready solution. Done that lots of times. One thing that might help--and I learned this the hard way (story to be told one day)--always look where you put your feet, particularly in dark places. Never do something else, like looking at your LCD or setting your camera, or looking across out into the distance, while attempting to navigate.

Charles Badua , Jun 25, 2010; 07:54 p.m.

Nadine, thanks again, very useful information. I also use clamps most of the time also, I want to be prepared to use stands when I need to, I'll definitely keep sandbags in mind. I like being able to set them (clamps) up quickly, and I also like the fact that they are less likely to tripping someone up like a stand. Though I do worry they may drop on someone's head one day.

David Wegwart - Denver/CO. , Jun 26, 2010; 12:03 p.m.

I normally set a pair of lights next to the DJ.

I set them for manual and my typical settings to get the result in the image below are:

cam; iso1250 - 1600; 1/60th; f4. On cam flash is usually in TTL at -2/3 stop. Off cam lights are set to expose correctly for a subject to light distance of 12'. If my subject is a closer, I stop down to f5.6, and if the a further away I open up to F3.5 or F3.2 (using 1/3 increments).

Hope that helps.

Distance is about 15' or so from flash.

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