Using Flash Photography

There are some photographers who frown on the use of flash photography.

I believe that, used effectively, flash is a tool that can sometimes make the difference between getting the shot… or not.

Electronic flash is provided by an in-camera pop-up, an accessory unit attached to the top of your digital camera, or even by wireless flash units being fired remotely.

I don’t recommend the pop-up flash, as it is harsh and too close to the same angle as the lens. This can cause flat images and red-eye.

Many photographers only use their flash units when they are indoors in low light situations, but there are other circumstances where flash is helpful.

Use fill flash to lighten shadows caused by harsh lighting, such as direct sunlight on a clear day. This also allows you to have the sun behind your subject (off to one side) and still light their face effectively.

When your foreground is in shadow and the background is brightly lit, add flash to your subject to match the brightness of the background, to capture detail in both the background and the foreground.

Or, use the extra light from your flash to illuminate your subject more than the rest of the scene, to help separate them from the background.

Flashes are great for indoor portraits of individuals or groups.

Remember to keep some distance between your subjects and any background, such as a wall. Otherwise, you will create unflattering shadows that outline your subject.

Most flash-guns have the ability for the head to tilt and swivel, allowing you to bounce the light off the ceiling or a wall to soften the light and reduce those shadows.

You can also modify the light from your flash with accessories you can either purchase or make.

It’s amazing what you can do simply by making a tube out of a piece of rolled paper and attaching it to the front of your flash-gun to narrow the beam of light.

Make sure you’re close enough to your subjects for the flash to have the effect of lighting them. Being within 10 is usually a good rule of thumb.

Keep everyone in the photo at the same distance from the flash, or some will be overexposed while others are underexposed.

Watch for reflective surfaces in the scene. Mirrors, metal objects, and so on can cause blown-out spots in the image, or result in flare as the light reflects into the lens.

Many of the newer digital flashes come with an ability to reduce the red-eye effect caused by direct flash, by setting off a series of smaller bursts before the main one to close the pupils.

A better way is to remove the flash from the camera. Have it facing the subject from an angle different than what the camera is seeing; usually off to one side or the other.

This will not only help prevent red-eye, but will also bring some texture, shadowing and dimension to the image.

Purchase an accessory cable that connects between the digital camera and the flash. Or, if your system has it, use the wireless through the lens (TTL) system.

The more adventurous of you can purchase radio triggers that are effective for hundreds of feet.

Use multiple flashes off-camera to create different effects.

Use one as a main light, usually at about a 45 degree angle from the subject and camera.

Another can be a fill light and yet another for lighting the subject’s hair. Add a fourth and you can light the background as well.

Diffuse the flash with an accessory designed for that purpose, because your flash is a small source of light; so, by itself, it can be quite harsh.

An inexpensive flash stand and umbrella will make a huge improvement in your flash photography.

Practise using flash with your photography. Fire off your flash shots and examine the results. See what you and your digital camera can create.

If you like what you see, note how you did it so you can repeat it. If you don’t like it, remember how you did it so you don’t repeat it.

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