flash photography techniques
~  intro page  ~  natural looking flash

flash photography techniques and tips

As photographers we’re always looking for perfect light.
And yet, the quality of available light isn’t always ideal. It is rarely perfect.

But I feel that in using flash wisely, I’m able to enhance or over-ride the available light. With careful use of flash, I am more in control of light, and hence the way my photos will look – than if I had just accepted the existing ambient light.

Instead of waiting for perfect light, I use what I have …
and add flash to make the best of the situation.

The next series of articles is a primer for anyone who is struggling with flash photography, or worse yet, intimidated by it. Hopefully, as you go through the articles, things will fall into place.

We’ll be aiming for those “aha!” moments.



However, there are a few things we need to get out of the way first :

  • These pages were originally written to help other photographers who struggle with on-camera flash. But they were also written as a reaction against the snobbery of the purists who insist on using available light only – even when it looks terrible.
  • Many of the photos on the next few pages are from weddings.  However, don’t feel that this only relates to weddings.  The techniques here are applicable to almost any other field of photography.  Since the majority of my work is as a wedding photographer in New Jersey, it was often easier for me to find examples from that.
  • The techniques here are, for the most part, system non-specific.
    I own and use both Nikon and Canon systems.  Over the years I’ve used a number of Canon and Nikon and Fuji cameras. These articles are written with the intent that they apply to pretty much any camera and flash system. The finer specifics can always be found by delving deeper into the manuals – but on a certain level, these techniques apply to every camera and flash.
  • The photos here were all taken with digital cameras. They are immensely helpful tools in learning about the craft of photography. However, the techniques here are valid for film cameras too.
  • Also, the images here had little Photoshop work done to them. But I did correct the white balance, and fine-tune exposure and contrast for these photos, as part of my general raw workflow. I wanted to show what was possible with the camera and flash and lens; not show off Photoshop skills.
  • I always use my camera in manual exposure mode for very specific reasons. With flash however, I alternate between TTL flash (if either myself or the subject moves around), or manual flash, (if the subject is static in relation to the strobe.) More about that in the following articles.

 

let’s get started – the first step:  making flash not look like flash

 

video tutorials to help you with flash photography

If you like learning by seeing best, then these video tutorials will help you with understanding flash photography techniques and concepts. While not quite hands-on, this is as close as we can get to personal instruction. Check out these and other video tutorials and online photography workshops.


 

photography books by Neil vN

Amazon USA

Amazon UK

 

info about those photography books

1. On-camera flash photography, by Neil vN
2. Off-camera flash photography, by Neil vN
3. direction and quality of light, by Neil vN
also check out my list of recommended books on photography technique,
and my choice of best photography books.

 

newsletter / forum / photography workshops

If you find these articles of value, please support this website by ordering your photo gear
via this Amazon affiliate link or any of the other affiliate links. Thank you!

If you need more direct help with photography, I also offer
photography workshops and individual tutoring sessions.

Join us on the Tangents forum for further discussions,
and stay informed of new articles via the monthly newsletter.

{ 31 comments. } Add a Comment

1 Ray Westfal September 7, 2009 at 8:17 pm

I really like the work you have done.Your site is well written and easy to follow as well as covering a lot. Thanks

Reply

2 phil barry September 18, 2009 at 6:17 pm

Hi Neil.
your site and fluid explanation of flash photography is staggering! Ive always struggled with flash but since finding your site I must say it makes you think to yourself… why diden’t I THINK!!. your explanation of manual flash and what you need to remember i.e. the four things that will control the flash exposure, power. apature. iso. distance. gave me a word that I will always remember, the first letter from each word spells P.A.I.D and I would think if everyone followed your lead, and teachings they would be paid with outstanding pictures.

many thanks phil.

Reply

3 Sid November 8, 2009 at 2:45 pm

Hello Neil,
I am pretty new into photography and I am so obsessed with photography, my aim is to be able to do portraiture and weddings. I found your site and I feel like you have just brought me up into a new world of photography. You are so precise with your explaiation. I have spent all sunday reading your article from page to pages and I had bought 3 of your books and can’t wait to get them.
I currently have Canon 50D with 70-200mm/2.8 IS and 24-105mm/4L IS

Thank for sharing your knowledge with us and looking forward to learn more from you and other photographers on your site.

Greatly appreciated.

Sid from (Australia)

Reply

4 Carl Harsch March 12, 2010 at 5:36 pm

Neil, just received your book “On Camera Flash Techniques” and really enjoyed the material presented. Kudos!

Carl Harsch

Reply

5 Buffalo Wedding Photographers March 24, 2010 at 2:44 pm

Hey Neil. I picked up your On Camera Flash Techniques book and all I have to say is It’s about damn time someone gave all the ins and outs of flash photography. I learned everything I know by myself but I know that there are tons of photographers out there who will treat this thing like the bible!

Amazing work. Now I am REALLY bummed that I missed you when you came to Western New York last year… Next time don’t have a workshop on my wife’s birthday okay?

Take care!
~Michael Alan Bielat

Reply

6 Scott Shah May 30, 2010 at 5:51 pm

Hi Neil,

Just amazing! Your step by step explanation with the pictures teaches us how to take good pictures. I have gone thru your book several times and every time I learn something new. Just perfect.

Thanks.

Scott

Reply

7 Karla De Smedt June 19, 2010 at 6:30 pm

Thank you very much for sharing your interesting views. Your extremely clear explanation on the difference between using TTL and manual flash has triggered me to buy your book via amazon. The book has not arrived yet, but in the meantime I keep busy picking up knowledge from your website. Hopefully after reading your book I will be able to adapt to available light and use flash light in a much better way. I want to get rid of the ugly shadows I currently have behind my subjects (even in bounce mode and with diffuser). That is why I searched for interesting tips on flash photography in the first place.
Regards, Karla

Reply

8 Neil vN June 19, 2010 at 6:59 pm

You’re still getting flash shadows because of that diffuser cup. It is throwing light forward from your camera’s point of view as if it is a small light source. Jump to the article on the black foamie thing in the meantime. It will explain how to get photos without a hard flash shadow when working indoors with an on-camera flash.

Reply

9 John Parkett June 22, 2010 at 2:45 am

Having shot a lot with just the pop-up flash and it sounds like something Karla was going through, I came across a Pop-up bounce which which works great indoors and packs completely flat, they make it for Nikon, Canon and Sony DSLR cameras and is really durable. I can just throw it in my pocket and pop it on the camera with ease. It’s called the Zeh Bounce and I found it at . It is normally $10 and I actually got it discounted through the NAPP website, of which I am a member. For $10 though it works great. Worth a look.

Reply

10 Adam August 12, 2010 at 1:37 pm

Neil,

First off, I love your work. I think you should do more podcast, I think it would save you alot of time and and you have a great voice.

I just in the last year vamped up my skills and gear and am using the 5d Mark II and just last week I bought the 1d Mark III. I like them both alot while recognizing my frustrations with each. I would love to read more about why you primarily shoot Nikon now and what are some of your biggest frustrations with the 1d Mark III?

Cheers

Reply

11 Neil vN August 13, 2010 at 3:26 am

I try to keep the material on this site as system-agnostic as possible, so I never really posted any Nikon vs Canon comparisons. But here is a discussion on why I switched my dominant system to Nikon. I still keep a small Canon system, mainly for the workshops and to remain familiar with the Canon flash system.

Reply

12 John Belt November 7, 2010 at 2:56 pm

I found your explanation of flash photography very interesting. Over the years I have dabbled with light mainly in the black and white field and film. Now I can afford a better camera (Canon EOS 5 Mk2) and IS lenses, L series flash is not something I use very often, but I am willing to learn and will purchase your book through Amazon.

Reply

13 mikehenville December 27, 2010 at 8:41 pm

Great article; it gave me an insight on how to operate my CanonEOS 7D and the 580EX ll together.
I had a lot of problems on Christmas night.
Mike

Reply

14 Sam Saludo February 23, 2011 at 12:57 am

I am just getting started to digital photography and had bought a Nikon D3100 to start with. I am currently shopping for a flash for my camera and I know I can’t go wrong if I purchase one of Nikon’s SB flash series, which are quite pricey in my opinion. Would you recommend a non-Nikon flash that will do a decent job for an average amateur photographer like me that will not cost an arm and a leg?

Reply

15 Neil vN February 28, 2011 at 9:04 pm

Sam .. I would suggest getting one of the top Nikon speedlights for specific reasons, even if they seem expensive compared to the camera. Between the Nikon SB-900 and SB-700, I think the Nikon SB-700 would suit you best, and offer a lot of flexibility and features as you grow as a photographer.

Here is the link to B&H for the Nikon SB-700 speedlight.

Reply

16 charles March 5, 2011 at 9:14 pm

Thanks for having your e-book available through barnes and noble. Just bought it on my nook color after spending an hour pouring over your website in a coffee shop! This is really going to belp me i think :)

Charles.

Reply

17 A. Hedges Photography March 9, 2011 at 10:15 pm

I just want to express my REPEATED gratitude…I from time to time “google” questions and I always tend to find myself back here. Not only do I find the answers I’m looking for, I find the most simple explanations and I don’t feel like a complete idiot!! I consider myself a professional photographer but at times, on different discussion boards I feel talked down to and I question my abilities. I don’t ever feel that way when I read your explanations. Again- THANK YOU!

Reply

18 Max Surikov May 30, 2011 at 12:39 am

Neil, great explanation. I enjoy all of your creative posts and thanks for coming to AD in Cincinnati earlier this month. I’ve already incorporated into my workflow many of the things you demonstrated at AD.

Reply

19 Denzil Jennings July 23, 2011 at 11:06 am

Neil,

Thank you very much for taking the time to pass on this knowledge! This is an invaluable resource for anyone starting to learn flash photography.

Denzil

Reply

20 kamera sistemi December 3, 2011 at 11:25 am

I found your explanation of flash photography very interesting. Over the years I have dabbled with light mainly in the black and white field and film.

Reply

21 Basanta December 19, 2011 at 12:54 pm

Hi Neal,

I had my NikonSB700 delivered today and it is my first flash gun. Looking around the internet for tutorials I happen to come across your website. I intend to read all your articles and hopefully overcome my fear of using flash. I am a beginner and your website is very informative indeed.

Thanks,

Basanta

Reply

22 Alex Saville Photography January 16, 2012 at 10:13 am

I’ve read your book on On Camera Flash and found it extremely useful – in fact I’ve just recommended it to a friend.

Reply

23 Karen February 21, 2012 at 1:35 pm

Hi Neil,

Dankie vir al die inspirasie. Jy is net eenvoudig ‘n guru wat flash betref! Dankie vir jou alles wat jy deel.

Karen

Reply

24 Martin Spence February 23, 2012 at 9:06 am

Hi Neil

I’ve read both ur books – still not confident shooting in manual… Much prefer iTTL..

I shoot with a D300 and have heard that in terms of spending money on a hobby I should start with education, then glass, then flash/light modifiers and finally a camera body.

Would you agree with that?

I’m holding off on the D800 – however I think I need a more powerful flash than the sb-600 so was thinking of the SB-910 or the Nissin Di866 – any thought on what would be better?

Thanks
M

Reply

25 Charles July 11, 2012 at 3:40 pm

Thans Neil for all you have done…..for amateurs and professionals ……

Reply

26 john June 29, 2013 at 7:11 am

The writeups are so simple, informative which has helped a lot of us to understand what photography is all about. In fact reading you post has started giving me some sense on what those controls are on my camera. Reading the comments, I assume it may not be a problem sharing pic with you and asking some suggestions.

Reply

27 Pablo Alanis October 10, 2013 at 9:26 am

Neil, the information I found on your blog is what I have been looking for quite some time and haven’t found until now. I have been another victim of the lack of knowledge about proper flash use for several years. Unhappy with the inconsistency of my photography. Unable to figure out what I was doing wrong, and worst yet, not having any ideas on how to improve it. Looking for diffusers I came across one of your post about the Black Foamie Thing and realize pretty much everything around us could be used as a diffuser. The bounced flash technique is awesome. I’ve done it in the past, but wrong of course.

Thank you very much for sharing your knowledge.

Reply

28 Augustine May 16, 2014 at 8:23 am

Neil, you are really fantastic, your technics n your craft really fantastic. Thanks.

Reply

29 farming photography shop November 14, 2014 at 8:44 pm

I always spent my half an hour to read this website’s articles all the time along with a mug of coffee.

Reply

30 Carmen December 21, 2014 at 4:08 pm

Hi Neil,
Love your books! Just one question, can i mix TTL with manual strobes e.g. For the hair light? Does this make any sence? Thanks for your help.

Reply

31 Neil vN December 21, 2014 at 4:33 pm

You can mix TTL and manual.

I haven’t written much about the topic, but there is at least this one article: mixing on-camera TTL flash with manual off-camera flash. It doesn’t quite directly answer your question, but yes, you can mix TTL and manual flash.

However, the hair light doesn’t make sense as TTL flash. That would have to be manual flash, since rim-light and hair-light can’t really be metered for by your camera’s TTL system. (I hope that makes sense.)

Reply

Leave a Comment

{ 7 trackbacks }