Flash photography basics
In teaching workshops on flash photography, I frequently encounter newer photographers who are overwhelmed by flash photography. Overwhelmed to the extent that they fear their flash, and would rather not deal with flash photography at all. Instead, they adopt the idea that they will only specialize in available light photography. Now, that kind of thinking is an artistic dead-end. As a photographer that aspires to truly being creative, you need to understand light, regardless of how it is supplied to us.
I do feel that flash photography is one of those subjects which start to make sense once you grasp a bunch-of-things simultaneously. From the outside, it can look intimidating and complex. But how to explain it all at once so that it makes sense?
A multitude of things need to be grasped – Camera settings: Aperture & ISO & Shutter speed. Manual flash vs TTL flash. Exposure metering for flash. Metering for flash and ambient light.
But where do we even start? And that’s the thing – we just have to start. We just have to take those first photos!
We can spend too much time caught up in first trying to understand all the technical aspects and all the nuances of lighting. We can be too intimidated by all that to actually use a flash … when all we need to do as a start, is to actually start using the flash!
- Under-expose the ambient light a bit
- Set your flash to TTL
- Take a photo.
- Adjust to taste.
- Take the photo again and check.
It’s that simple.
Learning the rest will come with time. But we can’t wait for complete understanding before venturing out. It will only hinder us from growing as photographers if we don’t get out there and shoot. Avoiding something because it is perceived as being difficult, will just hold us back.
Over time we will get to grips with all the aspects of flash photography and lighting. But we have to start somewhere, and we have to start now! Right here.
It is from this simple instruction – just start taking photographs – that any new photographer can be empowered start using flash, or may have been too intimidated to actually use a flash.
The two images above were shot during the practical demonstration. They’re not art, nor artistic. In a sense the image on the right which has the better, cleaner light, is just a snapshot. But the light looks just great! And that is the entire point here.
The flash photography method is simple:
1. We under-exposed the available light to a certain extent.
My settings weren’t specific. I just needed the ambient exposure on her to be under. My settings were 1/250 @ f4.5 @ 500 ISO. Middle of the road settings. I did this on purpose, because I wanted to show everyone that the settings here were attainable by everyone with a camera and a speedlight. We don’t need those f1.4 optics or fast zooms yet. But we do need a speedlight which allows us to bounce the flash off the wall and ceiling behind us.
So the settings didn’t matter all that much. We just needed to under-expose our subject to an extent. Someone standing next to me would’ve chosen different settings, and it would’ve worked too. But we have to be realistic … we’re not going to be able to bounce flash at f11 or such small apertures.
2. We need correct exposure from our flash.
The simplest for now, is to rely on TTL flash. Allow the technology to help you get correct flash exposure. And if the camera under- or over-exposes, then nudge it in the right direction with the flash exposure button. Make the decision and take a little bit of control. It’s still not scary.
3. We need soft, flattering light from our flash.
Direct on-camera flash will give us harsh shadows and unflattering results. We need soft, flattering light. By turning the flash’s head around and bouncing the flash off the wall and ceiling behind you, you just created a much larger light source. This will give you softer, more diffuse light that looks so much better.
Here is the comparison between hard direct on-camera flash, and the bounce flash with softer light:
Don’t fear your flash
The idea that I wanted to push through here is that it is very simple – and very accessible – to get such quality of light with your on-camera flash.
From this point on, we can continue to learn more about flash photography and lighting over time. But we can at the very least, take cool photos right now with great light from our flash. Then it is up to us to find those essential moments, and finesse our composition. But the flash part is an easy start. We can have fun with our photography now, and not let our flash stress us out.
It’s an easy place to start from, and it’s a great start.
- Bouncing your flash behind you
- How to bounce your flash
- Which flashgun should I get?
- Balancing flash and ambient exposure (model: Anelisa)
- Flash photography tutorial
- Video clip – using the black foamie thing