There is nothing is more frustrating than wanting to practice new skills with your camera and not having a willing subject to sit patiently while you experiment with your camera and flash settings! At least with general photography, one can just go out, walk around and find interesting things to shoot and by doing that, practice one’s understanding of how aperture, shutter speed, and ISO changes affect one’s images. And, for sure, one can do that when adding a flash. There is no rule that you have to take flash pictures of people, so why not hook up that external flash and take off, like normal?
Certainly I think that is a good idea, but, at least when first getting used to using an external flash with your camera, you are thinking, I believe, that you are going to use your flash to take people shots indoors. Of course, that is by no means the only way you will or can use your flash! And we will explore those other opportunities for adding your external flash to your image making, but for now let’s stick with the indoor, people idea. Maybe you are fortunate enough to have young children who are natural hams and at an age where you can make it seem like a game taking their pictures with your new flash unit. And they don’t even know they are helping you to learn! Or maybe you have a willing friend or partner who doesn’t mind sitting in as your subject while you learn the best angle of your flash and its distance from the subject.
However, if none of that fits your situation - as it doesn’t for me - then you have to find stand-ins and alternatives. Self-portraits are usually the first place people start. And that is very useful once you figure out how to get the focus set on the camera for where you will be sitting or standing (lots of suggestions available on how to do this that I will save for another post). Still life shots are another possibility to practice your lighting skills. I’ve used house plants, flower arrangements, pottery pieces, you name it. It all works and helps you learn. And, best of all, any inanimate object is very patient with you!
It is, though, still nice to have something that resembles a human being with a face so you can see how the light creates shadows by the nose or in the eyes. How it looks to have one side of one’s face in shadow while the other side is over-lit from the flash and how to correct that. Fortunately, my wife has two ceramic busts that, though they don’t look like anyone I would ever photograph, work nicely has people stand ins. I do worry, unfortunately, when I use one of them that it will fall and break, so I use my “studio bust” infrequently.
Enter a wig head! Made of styrofoam, a wig head is inexpensive (I got mine for $3.99 at a local wig shop), light weight, and, therefore, very portable. Mine - which I have named Siobhan after a student I had when I started teaching whose name I loved to say - has a hole in the bottom that fits nicely on a light stand. Voila! I now have my very own model who is patient and doesn’t talk back! I suppose I could put Siobhan on a dressmaker form and have almost a whole “person” as my model stand-in, but I haven’t tried that (yet!). Another thing I’ve seen some photographers do is buy a real store mannequin. They are quite pricey unless you can find one at a store going out of business and selling all stock and hardware.
Point is, though it is still nice to have a live person be your model for practicing your new-found passion for flash photography, there are many options for stand-ins, as you can see. In future posts I will talk about taking that flash outside and using it as an everyday tool with your camera. No “manufactured” subject needed!
In the meantime, if you DO want to learn more about flash photography, there is still time to register for my upcoming “Off-Camera Flash: Beyond the Basics” class that starts Tuesday, February 26th! Go to http://www.infotor.com/photoclasses/flashcontrolclasses.php to learn more about what we cover in this class and to register.
In addition to teaching scheduled photography classes throughout the year, I am also available to do one-on-one tutoring or small group lessons designed to meet YOUR needs and what you want to learn in the area of photography, using flashes, or the use of Apple products and software. Give yourself the gift of learning: http://www.infotor.com/photoclasses!