One of the things I have wanted to learn in photography - actually what motivated me to move beyond the world of point-n-shoot - is how to take better pictures of people. Until recently, I have been content to shoot in available light. I've got a couple of fast lenses that let me do this in a lot of lighting scenarios. I do have a hot shoe flash, but frankly I don't know how to use it very well. I've had great success using it for macro shots and not so great luck with anything else.
In recent weeks, I've attended some workshops that piqued my interest in flash or strobe photography. I had always been intimidated by the this sort of thing because it just sounded so complicated when I heard photographers talking about it. Lately though, I've seen some photographers work with very simple, minimalist lighting setups and I've decided that maybe I can learn to use off-camera lighting effectively. The Austin SmugMug group recently held an off-camera lighting workshop that gave me a little hands-on time with a minimal pro lighting setup. Tim Babiak of Exquisite Photography in Austin was kind enough to lead this workshop.
I got to plug my camera into Tim's wireless transmitter and take my first "real" portrait! This is Gabriela, a professional model with the Wilhemina Brown agency. She is illuminated by a single White Lightning strobe behind an umbrella high and to her left and a white reflector low on the other side. Tim had me zoom out to 200mm for the most flattering capture of our model. This probably wasn't the best idea without a tripod because the exposure he had me setup for was a 1/250 shutter speed, which is a little slow for hand held at that focal length with my Canon 30D. The shot came out though and I'm very impressed with the difference good off-camera lighting can make.
I performed some minor touchups to smooth Gabriela's skin out a bit (yes, even professional models have some blemishes and the strobes bring everything out.) The light may be just a touch harsh, but I'm happy with the result and I'm encouraged enough to further pursue learning the art of off camera lighting. I plan to purchase a new flash with manual flash control soon. My current flash doesn't have manual adjustment and it doesn't seem to do that great with ETTL metering either. I also plan to get an incident light meter to assist in my learning how to "read" the light in a situation.
BTW, in my research of flash photography, I came across a great site: the Strobist blog. There is a great tutorial there and I'm learning a lot as I go through it. I highly recommend it!