The Digital Photo Guy

How to Fix Flash Gone Wrong

by on Mar.16, 2011, under Monday Morning Tips, Photo Editing, Photoshop Elements

Why Manual Flash is Sometimes Easier

This past weekend, I photographed Celestina, Pinup Model, Makeup Artist (MUA) and Hair Stylist. This was the third time I’ve photographed her and I should have the lighting down pat by now. Yet, I still managed to make rookie errors that ruined many images and will require a reshoot. BTW, notice the cool NBA blouse. That’s Natonal Bowling Association, not basketball.

First, the excuses. We only had two hours so I was rushed. Celestina was delayed getting there so now we only had 90 minutes. I tried two poses which required moving the backdrop and wasted more time. And, the biggie: I took a shortcut and let E-TTL handle the intricacies of a four-flash set-up. This isn’t to say E-TTL couldn’t have handled it but it takes a lot more smarts on my. I would have been better off manually setting each flash instead of letting E-TTL try to figure out what I wanted.

Here’s a finished photo of Celestina striking a pinup pose. I wanted a white background in the tradition of true pinups. The BG isn’t pure white as I wanted but it’s better than the original (after the jump.) My first thought was to mask Celestina and drop in a white BG. I immediately realized that was a dumb idea because of the fine hairs where I was backlighting her beautiful red hair.

Breaking News!

The Digital Photo Guy (TDPG) announces FREE dSLR sensor cleaning for all field workshop students. Starting immediately, all students can have their digital SLR sensors cleaned for FREE as part of any field wokshop. Most camera stores charge up to $60 for this service.

If your images look like your cat sneezed on them, you probably need your sensor cleaned. Dust and goop (a technical term) on sensors show up as fuzzy, dark, circular spots in light areas of your photo such as the sky, white walls or clear skin. This debris can’t be seen with the naked eye.

Now, Back to Our Regular Program

Here’s the original photo where I messed up. Notice how the background is too dark. That’s because of several boo-boos. First, I should have dragged the shutter. That means using a slower shutter speed so the ambient light has time to properly expose the background. In this case the white backdrop would have come out white instead of dingy gray. Second, I should have manually set the background flash to put out more light. E-TTL metered off Celestina and didn’t give a hoot about the BG.

Anyway, back to the problem at hand: How to lighten the BG without creating a terribly complex mask. Here’s where PSE’s ability to accomplish the same task in 10 different ways comes in handy. I decided to use the Magic Wand Tool (Keyboard shortcut W) to select the gray BG. I unchecked Contiguous and used the default tolerance of 32. This selected about 98% of the gray BG.

Next, I set my default foreground/background colors and switched them so white was the FG and used the Paint Bucket Tool (K) to fill the BG with pure white. I then backed off the opacity slider to 50% so the fine fly-away hairs weren’t blown out and blend in the gray areas among the hairs.

Bottom line, I had to compromise. I didn’t get the pure white BG reminiscent of a true 1950’s pinup but I also toned down the ugly gray BG.

Pinup Workshop in the Works

Celestina and I are working on a Pinup Workshop for Photographers and Models. We hope to announce the first workshop in July 2011. We’re kicking around several ideas such as a combined Pinup/Boudoir or Pinup/Fashion workshop with Celestina’s model friends. If you have any suggestions, post them here.

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2 Comments for this entry

  • Gloria Hendren

    Thanks for sharing the error. I see where the correction made a world of difference.

    • Lee

      Hi Gloria,
      Just so you understand, this is just a “quick & dirty” fix. To do the job completely and correctly, I still need to get in close and remove all the gray areas that show through Tina’s hair.

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