National Geographic photographer Gerd Ludwig is a master of TTL-flash photography, which he uses in striking ways to illuminate subjects and emphasize his message. At the same time, he avoids the obvious “strobe look,” making images that appear (almost) to be lit entirely by ambient light—even when he’s shooting in near-darkness. In his PhotoPlus Expo seminar called “Minus 2/3 – The (Nearly) Invisible Strobe,” Ludwig will show his work and explain his gear and methods in detail. For a preview of the seminar, he shared several of his tips with us:
1. E-TTL strobes made strobe photography incredibly easy, but as a general rule, set your E-TTL strobe at minus 2/3. The reason is because the manufacturers’ settings result in strobe output that is too strong
2. Use your strobe to direct the viewer’s attention to something in the picture you want viewers to focus on. The most important thing is to take the flash off the camera to do this, focus it (zoom it in), and have your assistant hold and direct it for you. When I shoot without an assistant, sometimes I ask a bystander to hold my strobe for a few shots, and I tell them where to direct it.
3. To make the strobe less visible, use gels on the flash that reduce the bluish tint that normal flash creates. I adjust the gels to the ambient light but I try not to match it exactly if I want to put an emphasis on a person. For instance, if I have an extremely warm environment indoors, I put on a gel that is slightly less warm than the ambient light so it directs my viewers’ attention to what I’m strobing. I have a pack of gels to accomplish that and they are all hand-made. I will explain at the PhotoPlus seminar how I do it.
4. When photographing dancers at night, for example, I make use of this full collection of colored gels and I aim for a combination of sharpness and blur in the dancers’ movements: some are frozen by the strobe light, while others, illuminated only by ambient light, appear blurred.
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