An Unlikely Hero for On-Axis Fill Flash

Lately, my SC-17 cable has been an essential part of my on-the-run portrait kit. I’ve been using a two-light set up with minimal light modifiers.  I use an SB600 on a stand with a Sto-Fen Omnibounce diffuser, and an SB800 with dome diffuser, connected to the camera via the SC-17 and held just below the lens, as shown in the picture above. I dial down the SB800 by two to three stops, and use it as a commander to control the flash on the stand. So, the flash on the stand is my key light. The flash under the lens sets the floor of the exposure and provides a crisp catchlight in the eyes.

Shot outdoors, in front of a giant garden mural. SB600 camera left, SB800 right under the lens.

Using the SB800 under lens as a commander unit allows me to control both flashes, adjusting output to suit the skin tones of the person before me. Here I let the key light go a little hot to get a short lighting effect without too deep a shadow area, because I need generally light images for the website. Unfortunately, I’m still dealing with chromatic aberration in a lot of flash-lit portraits.

Back at the office, I used the same set up to get well lit images with minimal interruption to my coworkers.

I didn’t notice that the SB600 wasn’t firing, and learned that the on-axis fill works pretty dang well on its own when ambient light serves as the key.

I saw this technique over at years ago, but did it wrong until recently. I didn’t fully comprehend that close to on-axis is not on-axis. I thought that using a shoe-mounted flash would create the same effect. WRONG. It moved the catchlight and threw nose and chin shadows that didn’t quite fit the idea of fill flash.  Fill is supposed to lift shadows, not create new ones. In the studio, I’d use umbrellas and softboxes for softer lighting, but in a pinch with minimal gear, the SC-17 helps me get the job done.


Filed under Camera Gear, Lighting, Portraiture

4 responses to “An Unlikely Hero for On-Axis Fill Flash

  1. Who took your picture? [When you go to the barber, don’t go to the one with the nicest haircut. ]

  2. Thanks for these tips. I rarely shoot portraits, but love all the good tips.

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