flash photography

flash photography tutorial: balancing flash and ambient exposure

This topic – balancing flash and ambient exposure – seems to one that many newer photographers struggle with. The big hurdle seems to be the basic starting point – how do you decide on the exposure for each?

I’d like to explore this topic a bit with this post.  The trigger for this was a question that someone emailed me regarding an image in one of my books on flash photography. Instead of answering the question directly, I thought that a wider answer might be more illuminating. We’re still on that perpetual quest for more aha! moments. So let’s see where we head with this. (I’ll come back to the specific question and answer at the end of this.)

Why do we even want to add flash to our subject? The answer is that with flash we can control the direction and quality of light, and create a more dynamic image.

We don’t necessarily just use flash to avoid camera shake and / or poor exposure in low light. We use flash to create better light on our subject. We can ‘clean up’ the light that falls on our subject. Or to create more dynamic and interesting light. It’s about control. We decide. So where do we start?

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flash photography questions & answers (FAQ)

Looking at some of the questions about photography that appear via Google searches, I wanted to more directly answer some of the questions. This article is a selection of questions on the topic of photography, that I decided to amalgamate into one longer article.

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photographic composition, posing, light & lighting – when it all comes together

I just love this photograph of Anastasia Z, and want to share some of the through-process in how it came together.

To test the Canon 6D camera (vendor) and the Canon 24-70mm f/4.0L IS lens (vendor), I met up with Anastasia Z in New York. I scouted this area, while we were waiting for Anastasia who was running a touch late. Just as well I did the scouting earlier on, because it was freezing outside.

I saw the way this building over the Highline in Manhattan was creating this jagged shape with strong lines. I also knew the staggered vertical lines would work well, silhouetted against the winter sky. When we met up with Anastasia, we discussed an approximate plan of where we’d shoot .. including somewhere inside eventually. But I wanted to try this one specific idea first – right here.

So, knowing more or less what I wanted, we walked towards this spot. On our way there, I did try out an idea, but it didn’t quite hang together, and I dropped it to get to this place where I knew the idea would work.

So here’s how this photograph came together with just three test images …

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wedding photography – using bounce flash outside

When working with a couple during the romantic portrait session, there’s the need to bring variety to the images – not just in posing and composition, but also in terms of light & lighting. For this reason I use a variety – available light; video light; off-camera flash and on-camera bounce flash. I really like using on-camera bounce flash since it is such an easy light source to use, always at hand. There was a recent article on using bounce flash outdoors, but I’d like to add another example where I used bounce flash outside a wedding venue. Let’s look at the sequence of images …

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gelling your flash for effect – blue background (model: Anelisa)

The idea of gelling your flash for effect has been a topic here a few times. I most often use gels on my flash to correct my flash when working with tungsten / incandescent light. There are times though when I gel my flash just for effect, creating a shift between my foreground (lit by gelled flash) and my background.

In the examples shown in the several articles here, there wasn’t the type of background where the effect can clearly be seen on easily recognizable “neutral” background. In the article turning day into night, we turned the sky a dark shade of blue. With the sequence of photos of a model, Bethany, there was a reflective mirrored wall as background that we changed the color of. The effect looks stunning, but the mirrored wall might not be something that makes the color shift obvious to the casual visitor here.

With that, during a recent individual workshop in Manhattan, while working with Anelisa again, I took the opportunity to specifically take this sequence of images. They will hopefully clearly show how we can create a more dramatic effect by shifting the color balance of our flash in relation to the available light …

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flash photography technique – turning day into night

During the photo session with a couple, Laura & Todd, I wanted to add some variety to the images from the urban setting we were in. The sky had been overcast, but started to clear later on, leaving wispy clouds. Just perfect for a dramatic sky as the background. Of course, it is impossible to get your subject AND a bright sky equally well exposed without resorting to graduated filters or additional lighting, ie, flash. The technique with off-camera flash is quite straight-forward …

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updated flash photography page: flash + ambient light

When I posted the first few pages in 2006 on the topic of basic flash photography, I never expected it to snowball into a much larger website. Those initial few pages became the flagship articles around which the rest of the site hinged. But with an ever-increasing workload, and the desire to post newer articles, I haven’t had much time to update the original pages. I recently decided to start on those 15+ pages, and update them with newer images and also improve the text.

The page that has been updated, is the flash + ambient light discussion. I’ve expanded the page with more images, and finessed the text somewhat. While the material is familiar to the regular visitors to this site, the page was in need of drastic updating for the new visitors. Hopefully though, in covering the familiar topic, it might just help click things into place for some.

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simple lighting setup for home studio photography

This photo of Anelisa and Aleona, two of my favorite models, were taken towards the end of the evening of the most recent flash photography and lighting workshop in New York. The studio that the workshop was held in, had a white cyclorama that was just inviting to be used. As a recap of manual flash photography, I wanted to show how simple and easy a basic studio lighting setup was … and that it was quite within the reach of every photographer. Well, not the studio itself, but the lighting setup and equipment, as well as the technique, is well within the reach of any photographer.

A comment I had as feedback about this part of the workshop, was: “I was personally surprised at how little it took to create that sort of a photo.”

And that’s what I wanted to show – the simplicity of the lighting setup. Here is the pull-back shot.

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camera settings: 1/50 @ f8 @ 800 ISO … lens zoomed to 35mm;  available light

shooting promotional photos for a band

Anyone who knows me well is probably very aware that my first true love is music. I live my life to a music soundtrack. There’s always music playing. Not the radio, but music of my own choice. I love music … however, my sense of rhythm isn’t all that it should’ve been for me to be a natural muso. But still, I love music. All of which meant that one few non-negotiable rules for my daughter was that she had to take music lessons. So she plays bari sax in the high-school’s Jazz band, and she’s also been taking guitar lessons for a few years now with a guitar teacher, Gerard.

All of which brings us to this photo session – promotional photos of Gerard’s band. That is Gerard (right) and Ed (center : piano) and Joe (left : guitar). I met up this weekend with them in Hoboken. Perfect for the urban feel to the photos. Hanging out with them for a few hours coming up with ideas and places for photos, was great fun. The camaraderie between them will be familiar to anyone who has ever played in a band. You connect. That all too short time I played tenor sax in a rock band back in South Africa circa 1999, just before we emigrated to the USA, was one of the best times in my life. But I digress. It was cool to hang out with these three musicians for the afternoon.

Here are some of my favorite images, with some details  …

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photo session: urban ballerina – Oktavia

Oktavia is the stunning model on the cover of my book on off-camera flash. We’ve intended to do another photo shoot ever since then, but busy schedules kept us from that until recently. A theme that Oktavia wanted to explore, was that of the Urban Ballerina. The idea with the urban ballerina is the contextual dissonance of having a graceful dancer in the middle of some urban setting. There’s no real meaning to it other than contrasting art & beauty against the harsher urban setting.

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