The "Flash Flat." That's what I'm calling the DIY ("do it yourself") V-Flat made from connecting two project presentation boards together that is anything but a V-Flat. Not a "V" but rather a 2' (61cm) wide white space with 12" (30.5cm) wings coming out from either side. However, with a flash shot into it it still sends back nice soft light at the subject. Well, my flash class ended Monday morning and I immediatel started bringing boxes out of a back room in our basement into the main room I have transformed into my "studio." These boxes have not been unpacked since we moved twelve years ago and I needed to get back on the task of going through them. So, I had pretty much gone through those that contained things belonging to me and am waiting for my wife to tackle her five or six. This is all to explain that the studio area is a total mess. I had, though, left some space where I could sit on a stool to evaluate box content. I decided that I wanted to experiment some more with the 'Flash Flat' which I had just finished in time to use it in my last class on Monday. And I also wanted to demonstrate that one with some very portable gear can set up a studio-like arrangement almost anywhere! Even in a messy basement.
I constructed my 'Flash Flat' by standing one presentation board (Michael's or any craft shop for around $5 each!) on top of the other and connecting them by inserting paint stirrers (wooden sticks you usually get free with a can of pint) through tape (I used black gaffers tape) which I had appled so that the tape backed onto itself mad a slot for the stick. In this way, I can easily transport the two presentation boards and three paint stirrers anywhere and assemble them quickly on site to create a six foot (1.8m) reflective surface to bounce my flash off of. See pictures in a previous post: http://www.infotor.com/blog/homemade-diy-v-flats/.
For a background, I pulled out my Westcott X-Drop portable black background kit ($119 and you can choose different backgrounds with the kit plus you can purchase different backgrounds that will work with the kit) and set it up amongst the boxes. I have a nice little black, folding stool I got some years ago at WalMart for $11 and it makes a perfect height seat to use in front of the background. The X-Drop background is a washable, non-reflective material that is attached to the break-down frame using hooks (on the frame arms) and grommets in the material. Final dimensions are 5' X 7' (152X213 cm), so good for 1-2 people at full length and perfect for one person 3/4 or sitting on a stool.
And sitting on a stool is how I planned this easy self portrait shoot. I set up my flash attached to a radio trigger receiver onto a standard light stand pointed directly onto the Flash Flat so light would reflect and splash back onto me, the subject. The stool is about 5-6' (152-183cm) from the flash. I placed my camera (E-M1 with 12-40mm lens) onto my new MeFoto RoadTrip tripod (http://www.infotor.com/blog/mefoto-roadtrip-love-my-new-lightweight-tripod/) with the radio trigger transmitter placed in its hot shoe. I first tried setting it just to the left of the Flash Flat, but that was to much of an angle and I didn't have room to move my background because of all the boxes and stuff. So, I moved it right next to the light stand in front of the Flash Flat. This worked and the camera didn't cause shadows or cause any issues with the bounced light. I placed the stool about 2' (61cm) in front of the black background.
What made this shoot easy to accomplish all by myself is the built-in Wi-Fi feature of the E-M1. I connected my iPhone to the E-M1 using the free app, O.I.Share and selected "Remote Control." This app is fantastic as it lets me control exposure settings on my camera while sitting on the stool. Being able to see the scene on my iPhone allowed me to position the camera correctly to frame myself in the shot as I wanted. Once I had that all set properly, I turned on my flash and set it where I usually start when shooting manual flash: 1/8 power. With my camera set to Manual shooting mode, I set my shutter speed to 1/320, what I thought was the sync speed. Turns out that is true only for certain Olympus flashes or the small, removable flash that comes with the E-M1. I then set the aperture to f/8 to achieve a good depth of field and ISO to 100 ("Low"). I fired the camera via the O.I.Share app and the image was totally blown out. OK, 1/8 power is a bit too much, so I reduced it to 1/32 power. I also reduced the shutter speed to 1/250 and now know that is the correct sync speed for the E-M1 with other flashes. The resulting image was a bit dark, so I moved my aperture to f/5.6 and this yielded, in my opinion, a perfectly exposed image of me against the black background. The light is soft and even, because it is being sent all around me from the Flash Flat. A bit flat with no obvious shadows on my face, as side lighting would produce, the light, nonetheless, produces a pleasing and dramatic portrait.
Another reason I did this experiment was also to demonstrate that anyone can do this and it doesn't have to cost you a lot of money. Of course, having a camera with wi-fi is very handy, but most cameras can be fired using a remote. What you lose with that approach that I had with my E-M1 and the O.I.Share app is being able to see the shot scene and easily adjust the camera position and/or my position. Shooting tethered solves this problem of course. But now to the equipment besides your camera. I used a standard light stand and flash mount adapter that you can purchase for under $25, maybe even less. My flash is a $38 Neewer TT560 (actually, only $35.69 today on Amazon!) that works only in manual mode, no TTL. I used inexpensive Cowboy Studio radio triggers that come in a set of two receivers, one transmitter, and one PC cord (Model NPT-04) for only $24.60.
My Westcott X-Drop background kit sells for $119, but you could use any non-reflective black material hung behind the subject. The two, white project presentation boards retail for $4.99 each, but I'm cheap, so I purchased them using Michael's coupons and paid only $5 for both. The paint stirrers were free and the gaffers tape was tape I had that sells for $16.24 for two rolls of 2" x 30 yd rolls. When I add all of those costs together (excluding the camera, tripod, stool, and my X-Drop background, I get a total cost of about only $90!
So, if this appeals to you and you have never tried flash because the cost of a name brand flash scared you away. Or if you've just not felt comfortable trying to master using flash light, please give it a try. Getting a flash for less than $40 and radio triggers for less than $25 gives you an inexpensive set to start experimenting with. You don't really need a light stand as you can set your tripod on a step ladder or stool. Get out there and give this a try!
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If you need help learning how to use a flash effectively, please watch for classes I schedule periodically throughout the year or get in touch to arrange some 1:1 tutoring that we can customize to your needs. Check out my Holiday Specials brochure at http://www.infotor.com/photoclasses/handouts/HolidayPromo_2014.pdf.