You might be surprised at how easy it is to create theatrical lighting for impressive portraits. By using your hotshoe flash and controlling the spread of light with a simple add-on tube, we show you how to create this dramatic snoot lighting effect.
A flashgun is always a handy tool to have in your camera bag, but it can often be like using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. For this reason, you almost always need extra add-on accessories to turn the flash into a useful creative effect.
The flash accessory with the most unusual name has to be the snoot. This is just a long tube or funnel that attaches to your flashgun, converting it from a floodlight into a spotlight, picking out a small area of the scene.
Snoot lighting is very handy when you are photographing a portraits against a wall. Even though most add-on strobes have a zoom head that allows you to narrow the spread of light, the flashgun will still light up the majority of the frame.
Snoot lighting restricts the spread to a narrow beam, so that some areas of the frame are not lit at all by the flash. It is an effect that is not just useful for portraits, it can also be used for still-life arrangements, where you only want one thing on your table top to be highlighted.
Snoot lighting is of most use in circumstances where the background is very close behind the subject. If the background is much further away the wide coverage of the flash tube is not an issue, as the light power falls off so sharply with distance.
With a portrait, if the wall or backdrop is just behind the subject, the background becomes as well lit as the person. The result is a cold, analytical shot that lacks any atmosphere. Use a snoot and just the person’s face is lit, creating a much more theatrical effect.
Commercially made snoots are available to fit most add-on flashguns, but there is no need to spend money on one to get this cool effect, as you can make your own light funnel very easily. Whether you buy one or make one, there are some things to watch out for to get successful results with a minimum of fuss…
How to use snoot lighting for moody portraits
01 BACKS AGAINST THE WALL
A snoot is particularly useful when there is little option but for the subject to stand or sit near the backdrop you are using. It is the best option if you don’t want the whole background to be as well lit as the person. The theatrical lighting effect is very well suited to male portraiture.
02 BASE EXPOSURE
With off-camera flash it is wise to use Manual exposure mode, particularly when lighting just a small part of the frame. Settings of 1/125 sec at f/6.3 at ISO200 are a good starting point. Take a test shot of the backdrop without flash (as above) to see that the shot looks dark enough.
03 THAT’S A WRAP
We used a Large Rogue FlashBender (£32, $40), which wraps around a flashground with an elastic strap and velcro, as our snoot. You also need a trigger for the off-camera flash (see far right), and something or someone to hold the flash in the right position (we used a tripod).
04 POWER CONTROL
The exposure for the subject is simply controlled by altering the power output of the flashgun. Use the flash in Manual mode, and start off with a setting of 1/8 or 1/16 power. Take a test shot, and if the subject is too bright reduce the power, or if too dark increase it!
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