Contrast Control Challenge

I’m a great believer in packing a speedlight, lighstand, and radio triggers anywhere I go, even for a broad-daylight shoot in good weather. Partly because you’ll never know exactly where I’ll be shooting – we might wind up indoors somewhere – and partly because a flash can add a lot more lumens than a reflector.  And sometimes I need that power to control contrast.

In our shoot at El Gawel Falls, we trekked for over an hour up a steep, rocky slope, often through a streambed, to get to our location. By the time we arrived, it was closer to 0800 than the 0700 I’d planned to be there, and the morning sun was fierce. It was also shooting a harsh beam into the right-hand side of my shooting area, but the cliffs above the falls were cutting the light so that the left of the shooting area was receiving very little.  The contrast range would be too much for the camera. Kudos, by the way, the lads and ladies of the Hinugyaw Dance Troupe, specially the ladies; they were all wearing those brass chain-link belts with beautiful hawk bells, each weighing what seems like 20 pounds, and they hiked all the way up to the falls in them. Wow.

Anyway, my solution to the contrast problem was to stick a speedlight on a stand to my left, but there was no flat ground to support the light stand; we ended up asking Richard, Koronadal’s City Tourism Officer and our guide, to hold the flash for us. (Yes, when I say ‘lightstand’, I include the self-propelled ones – thanks to David Hobby at for the concept!). Underexpose the highlights a bit, tweak the flash power so it’s just barely there but lifts the left side of the frame a bit, and we were good to go. The final shot was still pretty contrasty, but then how much can you expect of one itty-bitty speedlight vs. the tropical sun? I was satisfied to have a capture with enough color info on the left that when I dodged it in post it wouldn’t give me a noisy, flat image.

The emerald notes on the foliage and moss-covered rocks, by the way, have me singing the praises of ACDSee’s Color Equalizer tool. It’s like Selective Color on steroids! With it I could make small but dramatic tweaks to the final color.


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