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Author Topic: How do you choose the right flash?  (Read 9881 times)

The View

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How do you choose the right flash?
« on: September 09, 2007, 05:40:02 pm »

I want to buy a flash for my Pentax DSLR, and am not sure how to choose.

I read about TTL, P-TTL and auto flashes - what are the advantages? I heard auto flashes aren't much worse than TTL.

It's going to be used on portraits mostly, some of which with the full body in the picture.

What do you use to adjust the color temperature of the flash to the color temperature of the ambient light (I want to both to work together)? Gels?

I know there are the Pentax 360 and 540 flashes (which have problems, I heard, about pins breaking off their mounts and then you have the flash frozen to your camera). Also, those flashes are quite expensive.

I heard good things about Metz, Sunpak.

Thanks!
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DiaAzul

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How do you choose the right flash?
« Reply #1 on: September 09, 2007, 06:41:13 pm »

Suggest you mosey over to the Strobist Blog and read the 101 on flash photography from end to end before you go any further then get some books on (i) Lighting technique (ii) posing technique (iii) make up in that order (and over a number of months).

For portrait photography you need to start thinking (i) the flash doesn't need to be wedged on the top of the camera and (ii) one light is good-more lights give more flexibility. Also, a single camera mounted flash for full length body portraits is not going to give you enough flexibility - depending on the look that you want to achieve you need to be thinking about diffusing the light source (to make it bigger) in order to get a more even illumination of the body (or perhaps uneven if that is what you are trying to achieve).

Apologies it doesn't directly answer you question, but the gear is a natural follow on from the technique - once you know what the technique is.
« Last Edit: September 09, 2007, 06:41:54 pm by DiaAzul »
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The View

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How do you choose the right flash?
« Reply #2 on: September 09, 2007, 09:15:50 pm »

Thanks, DiaAzul.

I think I want to stay mobile and only use one flash.

Do you think a flash bracket would be useful?

Do you know the "Face Hunter", the society photographer?

http://facehunter.blogspot.com/

I like his work. But it seems he only uses one flash.....
« Last Edit: September 09, 2007, 09:16:15 pm by The View »
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Hank

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How do you choose the right flash?
« Reply #3 on: September 10, 2007, 12:39:48 am »

We use single strobe fill when circumstances allow, sometimes augmenting with remote flash.  If it will fill the needs, it's certainly easier and quicker than lugging and setting up full light kits.

As a rule of thumb for broad application, opt for as much power as you can.  You can always turn it down, but there's not much you can do short of moving to a tripod for long exposures or multiple pops of still subjects.

A very useful accessory is an off-camera cable for your stobe.  We find flash brackets most useful when a shoot requires frequent switches between horizontal and vertical.  I don't like the exta weight and bulk, but my wife relishes hers because it allows her to forget about strobe orientation while switching the camera back and forth.  I have worked so many years without the bracket that making the changes is nearly automatic for me.

Metz are very good strobes, but we only used them on our MF gear, which has become a dust collector since the advent of DSLRs.  No experience with Sunpak, but like you I've heard good reports.

If your chosen strobe works as well with your camera for fill in all modes as do the Nikon strobes on Nikon bodies, you will be very, very happy.  We simply dial in the proportion of TTL fill we want and Nikon takes care of the rest, no matter which mode we're using at the moment.

We use gels on the strobe to match ambient light, then rely on the camera's loaded WB or custom white balances.  With mixed light sources it's sometimes necessary to also gel at least one of the light sources in addition to your strobe if you want everything to look right.  We gel windows and an assortment of artificial lights in addition to our strobes if required to bring everything into sync.
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Morgan_Moore

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How do you choose the right flash?
« Reply #4 on: September 10, 2007, 02:23:56 am »

Quote
http://facehunter.blogspot.com/

I like his work. But it seems he only uses one flash.....
[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=138299\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

He/she is using the flash on the camera direct

I dont see the point of TTL - take a test shot - look at the histogram, adjust you apperture accordingly

I would go for any flash that swivells through 180 degrees.

a vivitaer 283 is the classic bargain

I dont like metz 45 because the connections to the batteries always go bad

I woulndt get too hung up on the colour balance thing - shoot raw and if you want blend 2 images saved out with different balances

For fast work you need a flash that will attach to something like a quantum power pack

S
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Sam Morgan Moore Bristol UK

Hank

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How do you choose the right flash?
« Reply #5 on: September 10, 2007, 10:27:21 am »

To clarify, blended exposures will only work with static subjects.  RAW is only palliative for lighting errors if you have single light sources and both the time and budget for lots of post processing.  

Gels on strobes are a minimum for matching them to ambient light sources to accomodate color changes occuring with falloff of strobe light as you move back through a scene.  They're critical when using strobe as fill rather than your key light when ambient light is a different color temp and functioning as your key light- as when you are trying to preserve a lighting effect rather than replace all ambient light with your strobe(s).

No rule applies in all situations in photography (or in life, for that matter), just as no piece of gear will do all jobs in all situations.  Computers are marvelous machines for cleaning up your mistakes, but they still require time and effort at the keyboard rather than taking photos.  I guess it depends on whether you love photography or computer work, or for that matter, whether you are being paid for taking pictures or cleaning up messes.
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DiaAzul

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How do you choose the right flash?
« Reply #6 on: September 10, 2007, 02:26:37 pm »

Quote
Thanks, DiaAzul.

I think I want to stay mobile and only use one flash.

Do you think a flash bracket would be useful?

Do you know the "Face Hunter", the society photographer?

http://facehunter.blogspot.com/

I like his work. But it seems he only uses one flash.....
[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=138299\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

It really depends on the type of photography that you intend to do, location and effect you want to create. Having flicked through the face hunter photographs I can see the appeal and it works for this subject matter. However, when the environment drops below a certain light level and the flash becomes the dominant light source you end up with very harsh shadows. If you can accept that limitation then on-camera flash (either on shoe or bracket is fine).

It doesn't take much effort to carry a lightweight stand with flash and mid size umbrella to soften the light source and may be appropriate if you can engineer some flexibility into the situation. Otherwise try and reflect the light off a neutral coloured reflective surface. At a recent event I lobbed two flash (with radio triggers) on to the top of shelving and reflected them off the ceiling. This gave a uniform light in the room so that I didn't need to adjust exposure whilst taking pictures and total freedom to move around without cables or heft of additional brackets/ flash. Every situation is different you just need to think laterally and make best use of the environment and tools that you have.
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Gordon Buck

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How do you choose the right flash?
« Reply #7 on: September 10, 2007, 06:37:22 pm »

Quote
Thanks, DiaAzul.

I think I want to stay mobile and only use one flash.

[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=138299\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

In weighing the merits of the various on-camera flashes, you might consider as a "tie-breaker" whether the flash is readily adaptable to off-camera use.
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Gordon
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stever

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How do you choose the right flash?
« Reply #8 on: September 10, 2007, 11:17:08 pm »

if you're indoors with some white walls and/or ceiling then you can get some pretty decent results with a single bounce (flash must tilt and swivel) and even better adding a Gary Fong Lightsphere (my favorite) or one of the Lumiquest gadgets (they even have a flash-mounted softbox, but i'm not sure it is large enough to make too much difference)

if the subject is stationary and posed, then two lights are the way to go (although, again if you've got something to bounce from one light works pretty well) -- but for un-posed subjects moving around, a single light is the only reasonable choice (unless you've got a savvy assistant running around with the second light)

a flash arm can be helpful particularly for verticals (i use the RRS wedding pro- pricey, but light and solid) and to prevent your hotshoe from coming loose (some of the lightweight cameras really aren't designed for heavy flash units - particularly with accessories added)
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The View

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How do you choose the right flash?
« Reply #9 on: September 11, 2007, 01:23:20 am »

Quote
We use single strobe fill when circumstances allow, sometimes augmenting with remote flash.  If it will fill the needs, it's certainly easier and quicker than lugging and setting up full light kits.

(...)

A very useful accessory is an off-camera cable for your stobe.  We find flash brackets most useful when a shoot requires frequent switches between horizontal and vertical.  I don't like the exta weight and bulk, but my wife relishes hers because it allows her to forget about strobe orientation while switching the camera back and forth.  I have worked so many years without the bracket that making the changes is nearly automatic for me.

Metz are very good strobes, but we only used them on our MF gear, which has become a dust collector since the advent of DSLRs.  No experience with Sunpak, but like you I've heard good reports.

If your chosen strobe works as well with your camera for fill in all modes as do the Nikon strobes on Nikon bodies, you will be very, very happy.  We simply dial in the proportion of TTL fill we want and Nikon takes care of the rest, no matter which mode we're using at the moment.

We use gels on the strobe to match ambient light, then rely on the camera's loaded WB or custom white balances.  With mixed light sources it's sometimes necessary to also gel at least one of the light sources in addition to your strobe if you want everything to look right.  We gel windows and an assortment of artificial lights in addition to our strobes if required to bring everything into sync.
[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=138324\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

Thanks for your input.

I suppose you are using the word "strobe" for flash?

Which brand do you use (instead of the dust collecting Metz)?

Do you think TTL necessary? I actually found the Vivtar 285HV, which is back in production, but it's "just" an auto flash, no TTL flash.
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The View

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How do you choose the right flash?
« Reply #10 on: September 11, 2007, 01:25:26 am »

Quote
He/she is using the flash on the camera direct

I dont see the point of TTL - take a test shot - look at the histogram, adjust you apperture accordingly

I would go for any flash that swivells through 180 degrees.

a vivitaer 283 is the classic bargain

I dont like metz 45 because the connections to the batteries always go bad

I woulndt get too hung up on the colour balance thing - shoot raw and if you want blend 2 images saved out with different balances

For fast work you need a flash that will attach to something like a quantum power pack

S
[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=138332\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

I don't know the 283, but I guess it's the smaller cousin of the 285.

But the 285 only tilts, but doesn't swivel, if I'm right.
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The View

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How do you choose the right flash?
« Reply #11 on: September 11, 2007, 01:29:13 am »

Quote
To clarify, blended exposures will only work with static subjects.  RAW is only palliative for lighting errors if you have single light sources and both the time and budget for lots of post processing. 

Gels on strobes are a minimum for matching them to ambient light sources to accomodate color changes occuring with falloff of strobe light as you move back through a scene.  They're critical when using strobe as fill rather than your key light when ambient light is a different color temp and functioning as your key light- as when you are trying to preserve a lighting effect rather than replace all ambient light with your strobe(s).

No rule applies in all situations in photography (or in life, for that matter), just as no piece of gear will do all jobs in all situations.  Computers are marvelous machines for cleaning up your mistakes, but they still require time and effort at the keyboard rather than taking photos.  I guess it depends on whether you love photography or computer work, or for that matter, whether you are being paid for taking pictures or cleaning up messes.
[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=138406\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

I'm all for gels.

But how do you know which one to use? A color temperature meter? That's a 900$ investment.
« Last Edit: September 11, 2007, 01:38:03 am by The View »
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The View of deserts, forests, mountains. Not the TV show that I have never watched.

The View

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How do you choose the right flash?
« Reply #12 on: September 11, 2007, 01:34:05 am »

DiaAzul, I will definitely keep the two flash plus umbrella possibility in mind.

Quote
In weighing the merits of the various on-camera flashes, you might consider as a "tie-breaker" whether the flash is readily adaptable to off-camera use.
[{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

This fits well into what DiaAzul recommended.

I guess the Vivitar 285 is a flash that can also be released by a remote.

This is the review of the reappeared Vivitar 285HV.


[a href=\"http://strobist.blogspot.com/2007/02/return-of-classic.html]http://strobist.blogspot.com/2007/02/return-of-classic.html[/url]
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The View

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How do you choose the right flash?
« Reply #13 on: September 11, 2007, 01:40:01 am »

Quote
if you're indoors with some white walls and/or ceiling then you can get some pretty decent results with a single bounce (flash must tilt and swivel) and even better adding a Gary Fong Lightsphere (my favorite) or one of the Lumiquest gadgets (they even have a flash-mounted softbox, but i'm not sure it is large enough to make too much difference)

if the subject is stationary and posed, then two lights are the way to go (although, again if you've got something to bounce from one light works pretty well) -- but for un-posed subjects moving around, a single light is the only reasonable choice (unless you've got a savvy assistant running around with the second light)

a flash arm can be helpful particularly for verticals (i use the RRS wedding pro- pricey, but light and solid) and to prevent your hotshoe from coming loose (some of the lightweight cameras really aren't designed for heavy flash units - particularly with accessories added)
[{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

I checked out the Gary Fong Lightspheres at B&H. I'm not sure if one of those will fit on the Vivitar 285HV.

[a href=\"http://www.bhphotovideo.com/bnh/controller/home?shs=gary+fong+lightsphere&ci=0&sb=ps&pn=1&sq=desc&InitialSearch=yes&O=productlist.jsp&A=search&Q=*&bhs=t]http://www.bhphotovideo.com/bnh/controller...earch&Q=*&bhs=t[/url]
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Morgan_Moore

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How do you choose the right flash?
« Reply #14 on: September 11, 2007, 04:02:08 am »

Quote
I don't know the 283, but I guess it's the smaller cousin of the 285.

But the 285 only tilts, but doesn't swivel, if I'm right.
[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=138571\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

Yes the 283 is smaller than the 285

I dont like the 285 cos the zoom head kind of flops about

I AM NOT SURE THE 283 IS SAFE TO USE ON A DIGICAM

And you are right - the heads only angle - they dont swivel

so maybe bad advice

but I was making the point that you really just need something that light comes out of with an auto setting and a few manual poer levels

strobist also mentions nikon sb28 they have manual and auto mode and full diectional movement

but they dont work on my blad - dont know about pentax

If you are on a budget I would just go to your local camera store and hunt the bargian bin

FYI I actually use a sb28 on my nikons, quatum q flashes for off camera work,  and a metz54  on my blad

I aslo have a few 283 tha I use off camera with pocket wizards taped to the side

I did have a time of using a Quantum Qflash on the side of my camera mounted on a Metz bracket - latterly fired by pocket wizards - I could slip it off the bracket and hand it to someone for fast off camera work

This is proably the ultimate walkaround flash - but very heavy and I needed to donor a Metz45 to get the Qflash to attach to the Metz bracket

My second Qflash is now bust so it will be back to the 283 and wizard as a secondary flash for a while - those things are sturdy

----

In terms of colour temp set your camera on cloudy take a shot - look a the scene and you can get an idea of the colour temp of the light you are under - no $900

I think there was a product 'stofen omnibounce' that was available in different colours tungsten and flouro

I am still not conviced you cant make acceptable changes in post unless you have very specialised requirements YOU MUST SHOOT RAW

Say a tungsten scene with a flashed foreground just kind of looks funky

I have never seen a pro with colour over thier flash exept a slight warming gell in softboxes (shooting tranny) or when shooting for wild effects

If you are inexperienced with flash you will learn a lot with just using direct flash for a while and conquering those horrible shadows by longer shutter times that fill the shadow or picing backgrounds like sutably distant where you wont get a shadow - like the sky

www.DG28.com also has some tutorials

S
« Last Edit: September 11, 2007, 04:08:06 am by Morgan_Moore »
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Sam Morgan Moore Bristol UK

Jonathan Wienke

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How do you choose the right flash?
« Reply #15 on: September 11, 2007, 07:28:23 am »

Quote
To clarify, blended exposures will only work with static subjects.  RAW is only palliative for lighting errors if you have single light sources and both the time and budget for lots of post processing.

Wrong. A single RAW exposure is sufficient, all you have to do is process it once for each light source. So if you're mixing flash and tungsten, develop the RAW once with WB set for the tuingsten-lit areas, and again with WB set for flash-lit areas. Paste the flash-WB as a new layer on top of the tungsten-WB, make a layer mask, and airbrush the layer mask to blend to taste. I used this technique on this exterior where there were 5 light sources with different color temps:



You have:
1. Incandescent light inside the restaurant upstairs. (warm)
2. Fluorescent light inside downstairs. (green)
3. Sodium vapor streetlights. (magenta-brown)
4. Tiki torches on the patio. (very warm)
5. After-dusk sky light. (very cool)

So I developed the RAW 5 times, each with WB set for a particular light source, and then stacked the exposures in a 5-layer PSD file. I used the sky layer as background, since it had the greatest area of correct color. Then I used the brush tool to paint in other layers as needed where the color was wrong. I spent some time on this image in post, but everything you see came from 1 RAW.
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Jonathan Wienke

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How do you choose the right flash?
« Reply #16 on: September 11, 2007, 07:38:04 am »

Quote
I'm all for gels.

But how do you know which one to use? A color temperature meter? That's a 900$ investment.

I make my own, using this technique:

1. Shoot a neutral object (WhiBal card, Color Checker, etc) with no flash in the ambient lighting condition you're trying to match. Use RAW mode.

2. Shoot the same neutral reference with flash-only lighting, ISO 100, f/16, X-sync shutter speed. Use RAW again.

3. Open both RAWs in ACR. Do a click white balance on your neutral reference in the flash-only shot. Write down the white balance settings you get as a result.

4. Open the ambient-only shot and give it the same white balance temperature/tint settings as the flash-only shot. It should take on a yellow or orange color cast if the light you're trying to match is sunlight or incandescent, or a greenish cast if you're trying to match fluorescent. Click the Open button to bring the image into Photoshop.

5. Apply a 5-pixel Gaussian blur to the image, and then click on the neutral reference with the eyedropper to sample its color. Double-click the color to edit it, and change the L value in the LAB section to 95. You now have the exact color you need to make your flash gel.

6. Change the canvas size to 8x10 inches and 100DPI, and then fill the image with the color from step 5. Print the resulting document on a transparency, and you have a gel sheet that will exactly match your flash color temp to the ambient lighting encountered in step 1.

You can use this technique to match any flash to any ambient lighting, or match one flash to another flash with different color characteristics.
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Hank

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How do you choose the right flash?
« Reply #17 on: September 11, 2007, 11:24:14 am »

Quote
Wrong. A single RAW exposure is sufficient, all you have to do is process it once for each light source. So if you're mixing flash and tungsten, develop the RAW once with WB set for the tuingsten-lit areas, and again with WB set for flash-lit areas. Paste the flash-WB as a new layer on top of the tungsten-WB, make a layer mask, and airbrush the layer mask to blend to taste. I used this technique on this exterior where there were 5 light sources with different color temps:



You have:
1. Incandescent light inside the restaurant upstairs. (warm)
2. Fluorescent light inside downstairs. (green)
3. Sodium vapor streetlights. (magenta-brown)
4. Tiki torches on the patio. (very warm)
5. After-dusk sky light. (very cool)

So I developed the RAW 5 times, each with WB set for a particular light source, and then stacked the exposures in a 5-layer PSD file. I used the sky layer as background, since it had the greatest area of correct color. Then I used the brush tool to paint in other layers as needed where the color was wrong. I spent some time on this image in post, but everything you see came from 1 RAW.
[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=138603\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]


Sorry Jonathan, but that looks like a static subject to me.

The reference of this thread is for taking face shots and other moving subjects.  Sure you can do it when the subject is still or budgets, interest or circumstances allow you to process RAW 5 times.  (Holy cow!  How long did that take!!!!!!)  

Good on you!  But unless a client is buying my computer time for doing that sort of corrective work, I have to get it right the first time.  You simply can't run a business cleaning up messes for free when that takes you from behind the viewfinder on the next paid jobs.

Apples and oranges mix to make fruit salad, but unless you're being paid for fruit salad you won't be in business long.

Different teechniques for different jobs.
« Last Edit: September 11, 2007, 11:25:25 am by Hank »
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Morgan_Moore

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How do you choose the right flash?
« Reply #18 on: September 11, 2007, 06:57:40 pm »

Quote
Sorry Jonathan, but that looks like a static subject to me.
[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=138633\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

Taking two 'developments' of the same raw frame on different colour temps the subject matter is irrelevant

it could be a resturaunt or a racing car.

Making bracketed  tripod exposures of the same static subject twice gives even more dynamic range - a static subject is therefore required

I am sure filtered flash is very rarely done and not worth getting hung up on for most photography

S
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Jonathan Wienke

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How do you choose the right flash?
« Reply #19 on: September 12, 2007, 12:39:55 pm »

Quote
Sorry Jonathan, but that looks like a static subject to me.

And you think all the diners on the patio are mannequins? You obviously have reading comprehension problems. All of the different developments came from THE SAME RAW FILE. So static or not, the technique will work the same, as the image I showed DID NOT COME FROM MULTIPLE EXPOSURES. I made ONE EXPOSURE, and processed the ONE EXPOSURE 5 times, each with a different WB setting, and then blended the 5 different color versions of the ONE RAW FILE back together in Photoshop.

As to the post-processing time, I knew that was going to be an issue, and bid that into the job. There was no way around dealing with multiple light sources with wildly varying color temps; even filtering all the lights in the restaurant somehow (which was out of the question budgetwise and schedulewise) would have still left me with 3 disparate color temps of light to deal with. If you can't bill what you need to make the job worthwhile, you have no business being in business as a photographer.

@ Morgan:
Filtering on-camera flash to match ambient light is highly recommended when shooting in tungsten or fluorescent light and using flash just for fill. If you don't filter, it is impossible to find a WB setting that is correct for the entire frame. In fluorescent light, if you WB for the flash, the background has a nasty green cast, and if you WB for the background, then the flash fill area (usually the face(s) of the subject of the photo) has an ugly magenta cast. If you try to split the difference, you'll have both magenta and green casts simultaneously id different areas of the image, which can be even worse.

But if you filter your flash, one WB setting works for the entire frame, regardless of whether a particular area was lit by ambient or flash. If you do candid people shots, or any other photography involving a mixture of flash and ambient lighting, filtering the flash to match ambient will save you a lot of post work, because blending multiple WB versions of a RAW as described above becomes unnecessary.
« Last Edit: September 12, 2007, 12:50:43 pm by Jonathan Wienke »
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