Learn the first steps to adding off-camera flash to your natural light portfolio.

Once the first class ended, we migrated a few hundred feet down the corridor to the Delta Presidential Ballroom C. There, we met Vanessa Joy, providing her initial presentation as a Canon Explorer of Light. She provided an opening story about her love for Bob Ross, her desire to paint like Bob Ross, and her receipt of the Bob Ross painting set. The excitement/expectation of the gift ultimately proved to be in vain. Unfortunately, she opened up the kit and did not want to paint anything, as she was afraid to make a mistake. Photography, like painting, is an art that requires practice/effort. She discussed her typical cameras (Canon 1dx II, Canon 1Dx, backup), lenses (50mm 1.2, 85mm 1.4, 135 mm 2.0, 100mm 2.8macro, 35mm 1.4, 24mm 1.4, 70-200mm 2.8), Lighting needs (Profoto A1, Profoto b120/plus, Profoto light), and shapers.  I loved that she provided her reasoning, her requirements, and her thought process. She liked the Profoto B10 lights for their reliability and lightweight status and she was incredibly excited about the New Canon 1DX III.

She noted, like her experience as a Bob Ross painter, that people are afraid to make mistakes. Her trick was to use the available natural light, combined with directed light to control the brand.  Find the system that works for you, one that does not weigh too much and one that is fairly easy to set up. She then provided her five reasons that you should use an off-camera flash, even though it may seem scary:  1. Everyone else is a natural light photographer.  2. Annoy Uncle Bob (and his smartphone).  3.  You have Crazy Control when mastering light 4. You’ll sell more stuff.  5. It’s not hard anymore. She noted that light from a camera/flash follows the same rules as the light from the sun. Since light travels in straight lines, reflectors work the same for flashes as well. With external lights, you get to make the sun.  Quoting Bob Ross, she noted that “we don’t make mistakes, just happy little accidents.”

As the artist, you hold the brush, you hold the camera, you control what the image should look like.  She recommended that we should not think about the right way of doing something. Rather, we should focus on improving and learning. Remember that you make light the way you want it, it does not make you.  To Mrs. Joy, “Light is the accent.”  Think about what you want and use the light to accent it.  She mentioned several times to consider light like a window. Through step-by-step instructions, she provided an incredible summary of her YouTube video YouTube.com/vanessajoy.  Start by setting the exposure as if you were taking the picture of the background/subject and assume a natural light photograph.  For step 2, set your flash to TTL and see that the flash exposure will either makes areas brighter or darker. 

Mrs. Joy noted that TTL was like an auto for your flash.  This image/setup will provide a baseline image to work with. You can then flip it to manual and it will hold the flash exposure for you.  If you want more or less natural light, adjust the shutter speed only.  If you want to adjust the whole image lighter/darker, you can adjust aperture or ISO.  She recommended ISO adjustments to be made prior to adjusting the aperture.  Most importantly, she recommended only making a single change at a time. She stated that her 135mm lens had more compression, and tended to bring more light into the image. She suggested getting an 85mm or longer lens, to create a softer glow. You can place the light behind or off-angle, and add one to two CTO gels to the flash to provide a natural “Golden Hour” feel. You can utilize light shapers to help you to mold the light into whatever you want. She again recommended thinking about a window in the same shape as your anything you place in front of a flash a window in that shape.  Promoting her book The Off-Camera Flash Handbook by Vanessa Joy, she noted that a bigger window provides a softer light and a closer light makes an image bigger.  Grids may point and direct the light, but gels make the light pretty.  You can use the gels to color your light.

Mrs. Joy utilized several lenses to capture a variety of her images. Even though she loved her Cannon 50mm 1.2, she seemed to prefer the 135mm 2.0 to her Canon 50mm 1.2. Using Profoto Lights, she took a picture with TTL, set her camera to manual and then walked us through scenarios to improve the image. She used live Bride/Groom Models and captured photographs after each change on her camera. Other than issues with Tethering, the Off-Camera Flash presentation was my favorite of the day. Once her new book releases, I will likely purchase it. Until then, view her youtube sessions at www.breathyourpassion.com/poses.

Follow Vanessa Joy on Instagram to learn more about posing/lighting and high-quality wedding photography. Follow Vanessa Joy Photography on Facebook and Twitter.