Flash Photography Techniques

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  • 8/6/2019 Flash Photography Techniques


    flash photography techniques

    01 natural looking flash

    flash photography techniques intro page ~ natural looking flash ~ flash & ambient light

    Making flash not look like flash:

    I use flash very often in my professional work and personal work. But I try and make the use

    of flash not appear intrusive in the photograph. I nearly always have an on-camera flash, but

    I try to diffuse it or bounce it wherever possible. I use as little direct flash as I can, except

    outdoors where I try and use available light, and use flash only to lift the shadows and reduce

    the contrast. However, sometimes it is just best to overpower the ambient light with flash

    but still try to make it look natural, ie, not like flash.

    Lets start off with these few photos. They were all done using flash on camera.

    Youll note that there is no discernable flash shadow. I absolutely loathe a distinct flashshadow. So thats the ideal that I always strive for that it shouldnt be obvious that I didnt

    just use existing light. It isnt always possible, but that is what I try for in every photograph.

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    This was shot at f2, with flash bounced

    directly behind me into the open roomto just help lift the shadows. Note,

    there is NO flash shadow.I purposelydidnt use a diffuser dome / Stofen

    omnibounce here, since it wouldve

    thrown too much flash directlyforward. I needed all the flash to be


    specific settings:

    Nikon D2H

    Nikon 85mm f1.4

    1/125th @ f2 @ 400 iso

    manual; matrix metering

    TTL flash: -1.7 exp comp

    My choice of settings here were

    dictated by the available light, and I

    just used a hint of flash by bouncing it

    into the huge room behind me. At f2,

    and as fill, I didnt need to blast a ton

    of light from my strobe.


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    Flash bounced over my left shoulder.

    Note that there is NO direct flash, andhence no flash shadow.specific

    settings:Nikon D2H

    Nikon 28-70mm f2.8

    1/250th @ f4 @ 400 isomanual; matrix metering

    TTL flash: +1 exp comp

    The high shutter speed was a specific

    choice so that the stained-glass

    window wouldnt be blown out, but

    instead retain the colours. The bride

    was entirely lit by bounced flash, so by

    controlling my shutter speed (for my

    chosen aperture and iso), I could

    match the exposure for the window.

    I bounced flash off that sand-coloured

    brickwork, and this did affect my

    colour balance but since I shoot in

    raw, correcting the WB was no effort.

    With those two photos different flash exposure compensation was set.

    In the first image, the flash was used as subtle fill-flash, and therefore the flash compensationwas dialed down.

    In the 2nd image, the brides face is lit entirely by flash. Hence my flash is my main source oflight. So I would have to start somewhere around 0 EV compensation. But from experience I

    knew that the lighter toned face, and white dress and the backlighting would influence myflash exposure. So I dialled in more flash exposure.

    In this next image, I bounced my on-camera strobe off the wall directly behind me.

    One of the best pieces of advice I can give regarding using bounce flash, is not to get stuck on

    the idea that you need a ceiling above you to bounce flash. Look around for other surfaces

    that can be used.

    By making my light source larger than just the area of the small flash tube, I am immediately

    making my light softer. And this is exactly the reason why we bounce flash.

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    Before setting this up, I made a few

    test shots to see that the city lights arecorrectly exposed. Then I positioned

    the couple.Because I wanted to movearound, I decided to use TTL and not

    manual flash but this meant I had to

    bracket my exposures and ride myflash compensation.

    specific settings:

    Canon 24mm f1.4

    1/20th @ f4 @ 640 iso

    manual; eval metering

    TTL flash: -1.7 exp comp

    The slow shutter speed is to allow the

    city lights to record.

    Because the flash and the city lights

    are vastly different in colour

    temperature, I fixed it in post-

    production. With raw, it was little

    effort to create two images with

    different WB settings, and then

    combining them with layers in



    02 flash + ambient light

    flash photography techniques

    natural looking flash ~ flash & ambient light ~ dragging the shutter

    Here I want to illustrate a particular point for those who disdain flash and prefer ambient light

    only even if flash wouldve helped.

    With a bit of thought, and understanding of some essential techniques, using flash need not

    look unnatural, nor spoil the ambient light.

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    By metering for the ambient light .. ie. making sure my ambient exposure is correct, I coulduse flash to lift the shadow areas and make it a better image than it wouldve been without


    Have a look at the following photo :

    I bounced flash off the church wall.The church was large, and the ceiling

    high .. but by shooting in a vertical

    position, I could bounce my flash

    straight towards the church interiorwall to my left.

    This spilled enough light onto the

    couple to improve the image, andmake my post-production time much


    (Starting with an image that is veryclose to the ideal exposure and WB

    will really speed up your workflow)

    The settings were:

    Canon 1Dmk2NCanon 70-200mm f2.8 IS

    1/125th @ f2.8 @ 1000 isomanual; eval metering

    TTL flash: 0 exp comp

    I purposely did NOT use anomnibounce / Stofen attachment, since

    I didnt want flash to spill forward for

    the series of images I took here. I did

    NOT set my flash to 45` since this

    would not have been a correct angle to

    bounce at.

    As the parents walked down the aisle, I had time to make a comparison shot without flash.(I did this specifically for presentation here).

    So here are two shots in succession. The one with flash, and the one purely ambient light. The

    shot with flash had the WB slightly adjusted, the other is directly out of camera. Exposuresettings remained the same, and I didnt touch up exposure in raw either.

    Note that the flash shot has NO flash shadow. It looks natural, and a hell of a lot better than

    the ambient-only shot. By using flash, *I* controlled the light, and didnt merely shrug my

    shoulders and complain that the ambient light wasnt ideal.

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  • 8/6/2019 Flash Photography Techniques


    To improve exposure for the ambient-only shot, I couldve set a slower shutter speed, andrisked blur as they move and from camera shake. Or I couldve bumped up my iso to get the

    higher shutter speed, but then have to deal with increased grain. Also, the ambient light isnteven. With flash I had much more control over how the final image looks.

    And with this I am also daring the ambient-only purists to tell me that the image with flash

    doesnt look a lot better than the ambient shot.


    03 dragging the shutter

    flash photography techniques flash & ambient light ~ dragging the shutter ~bouncing flash

    balancing flash and ambient light dragging the shutter

    When balancing flash with the available light, the combination of settings is usually chosen

    so that the mood of the place and surrounds is retained or at least have the available

    light add to the image. In doing so, the advice is often given to drag the shutter. Inallowing a slower shutter speed, more of the ambient light is allowed to register and influence

    the final image.

    dragging the shutter

    This is a very simple technique but an understanding of how and when to apply it, often

    seems elusive.

    So lets take a step back and considerambient exposure.

    Here we have three controls for our exposure shutter speed, aperture and ISO.

    With flash, we have two completely different beasts to consider manual flash, and TTL

    flash. We will have to consider manual flash and TTL flash separately, since their behaviour

    and how you control the exposure for each, are fundamentally different.

    balancing manual flash with ambient light:

    Looking first at manual flash we have 4 controls:

    - aperture, ISO, distance, power.

    this distance would be the distance from your light source to the subject, and it should

    intuitively make sense already. The closer you move your manual flash (perhaps in a

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    softbox) to your subject, the brighter the light would be, and hence it would affect yourexposure.

    Similarly, it should already make sense that if we increase or decrease the power setting onour manual flash, this too would affect exposure.

    Now, comparing the controls between what affects ambient exposure, and what affects

    manual flash exposure, we can see that there are two common controls aperture and ISO.This means that shutter speed becomes the independent control for available light

    exposure. So when we balance manual flash and ambient light, it makes most sense to start

    by adjusting the shutter speed, since adjusting the aperture or ISO in an attempt to change the

    ambient exposure, will also affect the manual flash exposure.

    This is a crucial concept then - within a certain range,shutter speedhas no effect on flash

    exposure. This key will allow us to better mix flash with available light by controlling the

    shutter speed. The reason why shutter speed doesnt affect flash exposure, is that flash

    exposure is near-instantaneous, and ambient light is continuous. You just need the entire

    picture area (frame / digital sensor) to be open to be lit by the burst of flash from your

    speedlight. A further explanation revolves around a description of how your cameras shutter

    works, which is another topic, even though closely related to understanding how flash works.But accept for now that within certain limits, shutter speed has no effect on flash exposure.

    Enough words though .. lets see how this all translates with some images.

    In this sequence, the model was lit by manual flash, against the Manhattan skyline as a

    backdrop. The background light is obviously only ambient / available light. Flash had no

    effect on the background exposure.

    1/250th @ f5.6 @ 400 ISO

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    1/160th @ f5.6 @ 400 ISO

    1/100th @ f5.6 @ 400 ISO

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    1/60th @ f5.6 @ 400 ISO

    1/40th @ f5.6 @ 400 ISO

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    The only thing that changed between the images, was the shutter speed which I changed by2/3rds of a stop each time. As you will notice, the exposure for our model (lit only by

    manual flash), remained even. The background however, changed in brightness, since achange of shutter speed willaffect our ambient exposure.

    At some point, in continually lowering our shutter speed, we do reach a stage where the

    ambient light does register for our subject. In the images where our settings were such thatour subject is under-exposed, we could effectively use flash to bring the exposure for our

    subject up to a correct level.

    As an aside correct exposure for our background is a matter of taste as this point. It

    becomes an individual decision as to which you prefer and with that, there is a fair amount of

    leeway as to what could be considered to be correct exposure.

    This technique of using a slower shutter speed to allow ambient light to register more and

    more, is usually called dragging the shutter. With this, youd use your cameras light meterlike you normally would .. but instead of using it to expose perfectly for just the ambient

    light, now you use it as a guideline as to how much ambient light you would like to register.

    Somewhere around 1.5 to 2 stops under-exposure will still give you enough detail in thebackground and then you use flash as your main light source, and use the light from your

    flash to expose correctly for your subject.

    balancing TTL flash with ambient light:

    TTL flash is a different beast altogether than manual flash. With manual flash you had the 4

    controls for flash exposure aperture, ISO, distance and power. With TTL flash however,

    none of those have an influence (within reason) on flash exposure. Your camera & flash will

    follow our chosen aperture and iso combination (and change in distance), and give you what

    it deems to be correct exposure, by adjusting the output (ie, power) from your flashgun.

    This implies that we can now use aperture and ISO and shutter speed all three controls to

    control available light, without having an influence on our flash exposure. (Of course,common sense needs to be applied here with your settings. You can only squeeze so much

    light out of your flashgun.)

    With manual flash, if you decided to change any of your settings (aperture / ISO / distance /

    power), you wouldve had to juggle something else to still keep correct exposure. In otherwords, if you were at f5.6 and wanted f2.8 for shallower depth of field, youd have to changeone or more of the other settings accordingly maintain correct exposure for manual flash. But

    if you changed your aperture, this would then affect ambient exposure too, and youd have to

    adjust the shutter speed and / or ISO accordingly.

    So with manual flash, changing any of the 4 controls / settings, will have a knock-on effect

    and youd have to adjust something else again. However, with TTL flash, if you decided to

    change your aperture to control your available light, then (in theory at least), your TTL flash

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    exposure will remain the same .. since your camera and flash would still give you (what itdeems to be) correct exposure. The same goes for ISO and distance. These settings in effect

    become transparent to TTL flash exposure.

    With manual flash, shutter speed was the only independent control for your available light,

    and you would drag the shutter to allow more available light in. With TTL flash, you could

    change your ISO and aperture as well (and not just be bound by the single option of shutterspeed as your control) to adjust the available light exposure. You would have to adjust your

    flash exposure compensation then to adjust your TTL flash exposure.

    So now with TTL flash, if you wanted the same effect allowing more available light in

    you need not resort to a slower shutter speed. You could as easily change your aperture or

    ISO to allow ambient light to register. Heres an example:

    settings: 1/200th @ f1.6 @ 1600 ISO

    Here I allowed the background to register by choosing a fast aperture and a high ISO as

    opposed to the traditional choice of lowering my shutter speed. This freedom comes fromTTL flash exposures ability to follow my settings and adjust accordingly to give me correct

    exposure. (or close enough to correct for me to just use flash exposure compensation tonudge the flash exposure where I want it.)

    With these examples, it should be clear that there is a fundamental difference in how youd

    approach the ever-interesting challenge of balancing flash with available light.

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    [update: Feb 29, 2008] After reading this page, also please go through the following pagewhere this technique is discussed as well: Dragging the shutter revisited.

    Specific settings:

    Ive seen some photographers give advice like shoot at 1/8th sec @ f5.6 .. but that kind of

    advice about exact settings is misleading, since every situation is different.

    The actual shutter speed chosen will depend on circumstance and the effect that you want,- and the amount of ambient light that is available,

    - and whether you have a tripod,- or can shoot with a steady hand at slow shutter speeds,

    - and the f-stop chosen,

    - and whether you can bump up the ISO to allow more ambient light in,

    - and how much subject movement there will be, or you will find acceptable.

    There are a number of interlinked factors here that you balance out depending on the

    scenario. But in the end, the photograph where the flash and ambient light is balanced by

    using an appropriate shutter speed, just looks so much better in comparison to a photo where

    the flash light completely dominates.

    Adding motion:

    Heres an example where I dragged the shutter not only to get more available light,but purposely zoomed my lens during exposure, to add a sense of motion:

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    Specific settings: Nikon D2H; Nikon 17-35mm f2.8

    1/15th @ f4 @ 800 iso / manual; matrix metering / TTL flash: -1 exp comp

    The shutter speed and aperture and iso was specifically chosen so that the street scene would

    record in this image. I was fortunate that the couple was in a darker area, and therefore

    mostly lit only by flash. As I tripped the shutter, I also zoomed, thereby getting these streaks

    of light converging on the couple.

    Because they didnt fill the entire frame, I couldnt rely on the TTL metering of the flash to

    give me correct exposure, so I dialed down my flash exposure compensation.

    1. When you add flash to ambient light, dont you over -expose the subject?

    Speaking very broadly, there are two main scenarios (with any possible combinationinbetween):

    In the first scenario, the background is brighter than the subject, and you set your exposure to

    give near correct exposure for the background. Since your subject is darker than thebackground, theyd still be under-exposed. Then you use your flash to expose correctly for

    them. This is the simplest scenario.

    But usually what youd encounter is low light situations where the background and your

    subject have about the same kind of light on them, and would need the same exposure. So

    what youd do here, is intentionally under-expose for the ambient light around 1.5 to 2

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    stops so that the ambient light registers, but doesnt dominate. Since your subject wouldthen still be under-exposed, you would then use your flash to expose correctly for your


    So by adding flash, you wouldnt over-expose your subject, since you are pulling down your

    ambient exposure. You will encounter a lot of different lighting situations, but those two

    scenarios cover the basics.

    2. How do you deal with slow shutter speeds?

    I often get asked why the images displayed here that were taken at slow shutter speeds, still

    appear sharp.

    The reason why you dont see (much) camera shake in those images, is that I do take care in

    keeping my camera steady, but theres more at work here than just the basic technique.

    The image of the piano player (and another image on a subsequent page) probably have a

    measure of camera shake BUT it is in areas which arent important the background, the

    city lights. They are slightly out of focus anyway because of minimal depth of field.

    In the image above of the couple walking against the city lights, they were in shadow.

    Without flash they wouldve come out sillhouetted / black.

    Similarly, the piano player (from another page) was in shadow, and then I used flash to

    expose correctly for him. The photo of the piano player without flash, shows clearly how

    under-exposed he wouldve been without flash. And this then allowed the flash to freeze

    movement on my part and his.

    The flash therefore freezes any camera shake, since the available light falling on my

    subject(s) is so low. You just wouldnt see camera shake. Since the flash is pretty much an

    instantaneous burst of light, it will freeze action / camera shake.

    Therefore you simply dont see camera shake .. even though it probably does exist to some

    extent in the background.


    04 bouncing flash

    flash photography techniques dragging the shutter~ bouncing flash ~ wireless TTL flash

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    how to bounce your flash

    A single flashgun, used directly, gives hard shadows because it is a small light source. Theonly way to soften the light, is to make the source of light larger. The most effective way of

    doing this with on-camera flash, is to bounce it. Not only do we have softer light then(because of it being a larger light source), but we also have the opportunity to make the light


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    settings: 1/160 @ f3.2 @ 800 ISO .. using TTL flash; FEC = 0 EV

    With this image, I bounced my flash to my left, and upwards. I wanted the light to come froman imaginary softbox near me. My approach to bounce flash photography indoors, is to

    consider it as if I am shooting in a studio with a single large softbox that I can position. For

    this reason, I try not to use the ceiling directly between myself and my subject to bounce my

    flash. That will usually create top-heavy light and shadows under their eyes along withbeing flat light coming from the cameras position.

    If you bounce the flash off a wall to the side of you, or behind you, then the source of light

    relative to the subject, is much larger than if you had shot with the flash straight on. There is

    a world of difference.

    Foroff-camera flash, we have a variety of choices how we can control our light sourcesdirection and quality of light. For on-camera flash, when working indoors with bounce-able

    surfaces around you, using bounce flash is a fast and effective way of dramatically improvingthe quality of light from our flash.

    Just for comparison, here is the image without flash, so that it is clearly obvious how muchflash was used in the top image. With the ambient light so low in the final image because of

    my choice of settings, what you see in the top image is nearly all light from the flash.

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    So where do I want my light to come from? Where would I have placed the softbox if I had

    been in a studio? This way of thinking usually gets me great results as in this photo above

    the kind of light that it is difficult to tell whether off-camera flash was used, or effective

    bounce flash.

    By bouncing off other surfaces like the walls or ceiling, you will also soften the light if

    youre using the correct angle. And here I want to stress something again shooting with anomnibounce at 60 or 45 degrees, should not be a default way of using flash. For the best

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    result, some thought needs to be put into how you use flash, and how you direct the lightfrom your flash. Keep in mind that the intended result is to have no hard flash shadow. No

    tell-tale sign that on-camera flash was used.

    Lets look at an example where the light from the bounce flash is even more controlled:

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    settings: 1/100 @ f3.2 @ 800 ISO .. using TTL flash; FEC = -1.3 EV

    Looking closely at this photograph, you can see the interplay between light and shade on herface. Instead of flat lighting as we would get if we bounced directly behind us, the light came

    from somewhere behind and above us, from our left. The approach here was the same as in

    the first image where would I have placed my softbox had I been in the studio. The quality

    of light here is as good as you would get from off-camera lighting. Yet, it is on-camerabounce flash. The difference comes in how the flash was bounced.

    A key factor in both these images, was that there was NO light directly from my flash on my

    subject. All the light was indirect.

    I control the light from my on-camera flash, by flagging the light with a piece of black foam:

    Follow-up articles:

    a video clip where I demonstrate how I use the black foamie thingdirectional bounce flash

    the black foamie thing

    why use a light modifier that is black?bounce flash and catchlights

    throw away the tupperware on your flash

    using bounce flash to mimic window light

    how to get short lighting with bounce flash

    With this second image, the available light makes a difference in that it gives a nice

    background with some out of focus highlights. My camera settings were dictated by the

    available light. I wanted enough of the light to register in the background. Since I was

    shooting with TTL flash, I had control over the ambient light by my choice of shutter speed,

    aperture and ISO.

    adding flash to available light

    The preceding page on dragging the shutterexplained how to blend available light with flash.

    Follow-up articles:

    flash photography essentials

    when aperture does not control flashexposure metering and flashcombining flash and available light

    To summarize:

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    If I bounce my flash by tilting and swiveling it, I get to bounce the light at an angle awayfrom the subject. Then the light that comes back, appears more directional. There are areas of

    shadow and light. Bounce flash need not look flat. By keeping the basic physics in mind ofangles of incidence and reflectance, it is usually easy to figure out where to bounce from to

    enhance the available light, or how to make the bounce light soft but directional.

    TTL flash or manual flash?

    I mostly shoot with TTL flash when I shoot with on-camera flash.

    Off-camera flash is usually easier to deal with as manual flash.

    Since I frequently shoot with TTL, I dont often use the full power that the strobe is capableof, unless Im using the flash at the extreme end of what it can push out. If your flash is your

    main source of light, it is important that you stay within the range of the flashs outputcapabilities, with an appropriate iso and aperture selection.

    Bouncing your flash reduces your flashs output considerably but your flash should

    compensate for this loss automatically if you shoot in TTL or Auto mode on the flash. That

    is, if you stay within the flashguns power range. If somehow the technology doesnt quitematch the theory here, just know that this is how your specific camera and speedlight

    responds and dial in a new flash exposure compensation default when you bounce.


    05 wireless TTL flash

    flash photography techniques

    bouncing flash ~ wireless TTL flash ~ flash outdoors

    wireless TTL flash

    Wireless TTL capability in a camera & flash system, allows you to control a remote flashgun

    with your camera, or the flash on your camera. It allows you the freedom and control of TTL

    flash, but as off-camera lighting. This gives you much more flexibility right on the spot. If

    your camera and flash system have this capability, it really is worth your time and effort to

    figure out how to use it.

    I use wireless TTL flash in a fairly simple way during weddings, though. I use it to expand

    from just a single on-camera flash. With wireless TTL flash I can shoot fast and get my flash

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    off my camera for more control over the direction of my light than bouncing my flash mightgive me.

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    Here I first tried a test shot, bouncing my flash to my right behind me. It looked flat, and Iwasnt happy with the way the wall was blown out in the mirror. I keep two cameras on me

    at all times each with a speedlight attached. And either of those speedlights are ready to beused as a master or slave. In this instance I had my assistant stand in the corner away from the

    bride and me, and he had to point the flash (still on the camera), towards the wall and ceiling

    to the front and left of the bride. I disabled the output from my own cameras speedlight, but

    allowed it to trigger the slaved speedlight that my assistant was holding.

    specific settings:

    Canon 1Dmk2N; Canon 580EX speedlight; Canon 24-70mm f2.8 L

    1/100th @ f5 @ 500 iso // manual; eval metering // TTL flash: +0.3 exp comp


    An important thing here to keep in mind, is that using a diffuser cup over my speedlight

    wouldve thrown too much light forward giving it a clearly artificial look. The way I used ithere, the light looks natural as if it might have been soft light from a large window.

    In this photo, there is very little ambient light it is pretty much all just flash. In fact, just asingle speedlight as my light source but I drastically improved my results by doing two


    - bouncing my flash off a wall and ceiling, thereby softening the light, and

    - moving my source of light away from the camera, thereby creating more directional light.


    06 flash outdoors

    flash photography techniques wireless TTL flash ~ flash outdoors ~ metering techniques

    Speaking very broadly, there are two ways of using on-camera flash outside either as:

    - a slight fill-flash, or as- a brute light source to lift the shadow areas of a subject to the same level as the sunlit areas.

    Of course, in between that, there is a wide spectrum of possibilities, but for simplicity of

    explanation, Ill show examples of those two extremes.

    Metering correctly for ambient light is key here .

    It is important that you understand how shutter speed, aperture and ISO inter-relate.

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    The following three photos are really simple in their execution. I metered correctly for theavailable light, and then shot with flash straight on but my flash exposure compensation

    was dialed way down.

    It is as simple as juggling the three inter-dependent controls shutter speed, aperture and iso.

    When I shoot this way outdoors, I usually dial my Canon speedlights down to around -2 to -3stops. But with Nikon strobes I tend to dial down less usually around -1.3 or -1.7

    because I then use the Nikon speedlights in TTL BL mode, which balances flash

    automatically with ambient light.


    The idea here is to just use the flash to lift the shadows, and avoid shadows under the

    subjects eyebrows. The flash should ideally be imperceptible, and is really only used as fill-


    Just to round out the variety of cameras used, I should mention that the above photo was

    taken with a Fuji S2.


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    Flash straight on, but dialed down

    because I wanted it as a touch of filllight only.

    specific settings:

    Nikon D2H

    Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 VR1/250th @ f3.5 @ 200 iso

    manual; matrix metering

    TTL flash: -1.7 exp comp

    The wide aperture was chosen for the

    minimal depth-of-field. I wanted theautumn leaves as a soft mush in the


    My exposure was chosen by chimpingand making sure that the exposure on

    her skin was good without flash.


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    I used the same simple technique here

    as well for daylight fill-flash as withthe previous photographs on this page.

    I set my camera to expose for ambientlight, and then used flash which I

    dialed down.

    specific settings:

    Canon 1Dmk2

    Canon 70-200mm f2.8 IS

    1/250th @ f2.8 @ 100 iso

    manual; eval metering

    TTL flash: -3 exp comp


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    - I want to control the consistency of exposures,- I want to control the depth of field,

    - I want to control subject / camera movement.

    None of the other exposure modes give me this.

    I do sometimes switch to Program mode if need to swing my camera continually betweenheavy shade and bright sunlit areas. But this is rare. Most times *I* want to be in control of

    my exposure metering for consistency and accuracy.

    Theres a side-effect to using automatic metering that Ive noticed among newcomers to

    photography there is a tendency to blame the camera. Its a subtle shift in mind-set, but it isthere. Instead of assuming responsibility and learning about good technique, it becomes a

    quest for a camera that will do it all.

    With manual metering you are in control. So if there is a problem, you are the one that needsto figure out why, and how to improve on it. You decide. Not the camera.

    OK .. so I can see your next question would be :

    Why would setting the aperture and shutter speed be different from using say, aperture

    priority and have the camera select the shutter speed?

    Well, the reasons are ..- your cameras meter relies on the reflectivity of the subject and assumes mid-tone grey.

    Even with matrix / evaluative metering your camera can only guess at what youre trying toachieve.

    - if you use Program or Aperture Priority while using TTL flash as your main source of light,your camera will vary your shutter speed between shots, and your ambient light will therefore


    You have to understand the limitations of auto metering, whether in camera or with TTL

    flash and that lighter or darker tones within the same picture area, will affect your meter.

    And you most likely dont want it to. You want a lighter tone to appear light in the final

    photo. You want darker tones to appear dark. If it is an even mix of tonal values, then youll

    most likely get an accurate meter reading in one of the auto modes.

    There are also specific reasons why I dont use general exposure compensation.

    BUT I do use flash exposure compensation all the time, since I use TTL flash outside of a

    studio. Because the reflectivity and tonality of the scene that my cameras meter is reading

    changes all the time, I have to ride my TTL flash exposure compensation all the time.

    So how do I meter ?

    In film days I would use a flash-meter for flash. For available light I mostly just carefully

    used my cameras built-in meter.

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    With digital, I still largely meter like that. But we have more tools available to us with digital.So for me it has become an iterative process of:

    - checking my cameras meter,- checking the histogram

    - and blinking highlights display,

    - checking the image on the LCD, (although this isnt an accurate assessment of exposure),

    - experience.

    There is no fixed recipe in approaching metering in all kinds of situations. Its a mix-n-match

    of different techniques all used to make sure I get optimum exposure for my images.

    Ambient light, without flash

    The reason why I strongly suggest shooting in manual exposure mode 99% of the time, is that

    for a specific outdoor scenario, the lighting normally doesnt vary much. And by determiningproper exposure, your photos will look consistent in a sequence of photos,- regardless of composition, and

    - regardless of how wide or tight youre zooming, and- regardless of the reflectivity of your subject matter (eg, lots of bright tones), and

    - regardless of whether you have bright sky in a wide shot, or not, with a tighter composition.

    If under the same even light and within the same setting, youre shooting vertical and

    horisontal and wide and tight and from a high viewpoint and a low viewpoint yourexposures will vary unless youre shooting in manual. Its the ONLY way if you want to get

    consistent exposures.

    With this consistency in exposure, your digital workflow will be much easier.Even more so if you shoot in raw.

    Now, that is for ambient light. Onto flash. This gets slightly more complicated.

    Manual flash

    If you have strobes set up that are in a constant position in relation to your subject, such as

    with in a studio setup, then the ideal way is to shoot with manual flash. Using a flashmeter for

    this is usually the easiest way to determine exposure. This will fix your exposure to your

    chosen ISO and aperture.

    If youre using on-camera flash and keeping in a static position in relation to your subject

    then it might be easier to use manual flash. This will once again keep your exposures

    consistent within a series of shots. With digital, you could do a few test shots, and chimp to

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    figure out the correct exposure with your flash in manual. For a single photograph, it mightjust be simpler to shoot with TTL flash anyway.

    Auto / TTL flash

    But as soon as you have flash on-camera, and you are moving around in relation to your

    subject, then youre better off with some kind of automatic metering of your flash. This

    means using your flash in Auto mode or in TTL mode. It really will make your life simpler

    with digital photography, to not shoot with manual flash in this case.

    But now we run into the problem that suddenly the flash output is affected by the reflectivity

    and tonal values of the subject and the scene. Remember, your cameras meter will try andexpose for any scene in the frame, as an average tone. Neither bright, nor dark. This is true

    for automatic flash as well. Which means you will HAVE to ride your flash exposure

    compensation to get optimum results with flash photography if your flash is the dominantsource of light.

    If your flash is only fill-flash during daylight, then most likely the best use of flash will be assoft fill-flash. And in that case, the best results are usually with the flash exposure

    compensation dialed way down. And hence, the reflectivity of the subject will seem to haveless impact on the exposure, since our exposure will be primarily for the ambient light.

    When I shoot this way outdoors, I usually dial my Canon speedlights down to around -2 to -3stops. But with Nikon strobes I tend to dial down less usually around -1.3 or -1.7

    because I then use the Nikon speedlights in TTL BL mode, which balances flashautomatically with ambient light.

    But this also depends on how much flash we need to use as fill-flash. If were photographing

    someone in the shade, and we need to bump the exposure up to match a sunlit background,then were going to need a lot more flash. And therefore the flash exposure compensation

    will most likely be around zero.

    There are no easy answers.

    Anyone who tells you there is one magical do-all setting for flash, is lying to you.

    Being ready is being half-way there ..

    It is important that you start to anticipate things .. for example, if I am shooting indoors where

    my flash is my dominant light source, Ill most likely be shooting at 800 ISO or thereabouts,

    and using a slowish shutter speed to get some ambient light in .. say around 1/40th or so, but

    it really depends on the scenario. Ill also be using wide-ish apertures.

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    My Nikon SB-800 Speedlight will be set to TTL (and not TTL BL) and most likely have +0.3exposure compensation dialed in since it is the dominant light source in this set-up.

    With Canon, this varies. With my 1D mk2 bodies, I usually kept my flash exposure

    compensation to

    +0.7 as a default starting point. (Ive heard of 20D shooters doing the same.) With my 1D

    mk2N bodies however, Ive found that a default of 0 flash exposure compensation is best.(5D shooters have reported similar.) Also, with the 1D mk2(N) bodies, I have set Custom

    Function 14 to Average. I found that when my flash is the main source of light, that using

    Average here gives me the most predictable results. But when I need to use the Canon

    flash for fill only, then I get more subtle results with the flash metering set to Evaluative.

    Moving from dimly lit indoors to bright light outside,

    I do three things as a matter of course as I step through the doorway:

    - I dial down to my lowest ISO,

    - I dial to my highest flash sync speed,

    - and I set my aperture to an approximate value.

    There is a specific reason why I gravitate towards my maximum flash sync speed. Theres acertain sweet spot there in terms of getting the maximum range from your strobe. This is

    quite useful when you need to balance a subject which is in shadow, against a brightly lit

    background, for example.

    If I had been shooting indoors at f2.8 and f4, then I will be needing smaller apertures outside.

    For 100 iso, 1/250th, youre looking at something like f11 outside so Ill set f11 and fire

    off a test shot or two at a general scene and chimp quickly to see histogram, and blinking

    highlights, and then fine-tune my exposure. All of this in a few seconds .. and then Im ready.

    Overcast days will mean a different aperture than f11 for bright days, but 100 iso and 1/250th

    is always my starting point for Canon D-SLRs. If it is heavily overcast, Ill go to 200 iso, but

    I nearly always try to keep to as high a sync speed as possible.

    With Nikon D-SLRs, my starting point is around 1/250th @ f10 @ 100 iso. This is because

    the there is a difference in the sensitivity of the sensors of the various camera manufacturers.

    So moving from an indoors setting, as I step outside, my camera settings are pretty close to

    where I need to be. No fumbling for settings. Im ready because I anticipated what Id



    08 flash exposure compensation

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    flash photography techniques

    metering techniques ~ flash exposure compensation ~ more examples

    Flash exposure compensation

    There are two different kinds of exposure compensation :

    - overall exposure compensation.This is set on the camera body and affects BOTH ambient and flash exposure for Nikon;

    but only the ambient exposure with Canon cameras.

    - flash exposure compensation.

    Setting flash exposure compensation affects the flash output only. Ambient exposure isunaffected. This can always be set on the flashgun itself, but some cameras have a button onthe camera body itself where the flash compensation can conveniently be set without taking

    your eye from the viewfinder.

    Exposure compensation is used with the automatic metering modes, however

    with most Nikon cameras, dialing exposure comp in manual exposure mode will bias the


    With Canon, you cant dial exposure compensation in manual exposure mode.

    Flash exposure compensation is used to compensate for the flash output when the flash is

    used in Auto or TTL mode. It obviously cant be set when the strobe is used in manual


    Firstly, exposure compensation in general ..

    What many new photographers have trouble coming to grips with, is the concept of :1. adding exposure compensation when the scene / subject is light in tone,

    2. and decreasing exposure compensation when the scene in front of the lens is darker in tone.

    The reason for doing so, is that your cameras meter tries to expose for everything as amiddle grey tone.

    Hence, if you are using one of the auto modes (or Auto / TTL flash), the camera will expose

    any light toned scene as if it should be of an average tonality. In other words, the light toned

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    subject / scene will be exposed as middle grey. Eg, someone in a white dress against a whitewall, will appear under-exposed. So you need to bump the exposure compensation up for

    lighter toned scenes.

    The same reasoning goes for darker toned scenes. A man in a dark suit against a dark brick

    wall, will have skin tones which over-expose if you left the camera to its own decision. The

    dark tones would fool the cameras meter.

    To make it even more clear, lets think about this scenario:

    We have a setting where the light is consistent and even. So there will be an exact

    combination of aperture / shutter speed / ISO settings which will give correct exposure forskin tones.

    Now, if our subject dresses in all black or all white clothing, our meter reading will change

    yet, the light didnt change. In other words, we would still need the same exposure,regardless of the variation in our cameras light meter reading.

    So if you insisted on using automatic exposure, then you would have to use exposurecompensation. And you would have to vary your exposure compensation depending on your

    composition because the size of the light / dark patches of clothing and background willaffect your meter reading.

    The same reasoning goes with using Auto or TTL flash. You have to continually adjust yourflash exposure compensation, dependent on the tonality of the scene in front of your lens.

    Also, please read the pages on exposure metering using your cameras meter, as well as the

    explanation of why using exposure compensation in an auto exposure mode, is much harderwork than using manual exposure mode.

    This is the reason why I use manual exposure mode nearly exclusively.

    But then you may very well ask why I use TTL flash (or Auto flash) instead of manual flash

    and the reason why I use TTL flash is that TTL flash is easier to control when I am

    constantly changing position in relation to my subject.

    And as I explained on this previous page, it is easier for me in these situations, to use thecamera in manual exposure mode, and the flash in TTL / Auto mode. But this means that I

    have to constantly change my flash exposure compensation.

    Which finally brings us to the rest of the discussion on this page

    Flash exposure compensation when using fill-flash ..

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    learnt outside of actual experience and continual practice. You have to know your owncamera.

    Cumulative exposure compensation with Nikon cameras ..

    The Nikon bodies (that I have experience of), allow you to set overall exposure compensation

    even when you have your camera set to manual exposure mode. This allows you to bias the


    With Nikon, the overall exposure compensation and flash exposure compensation is

    cumulative .. to an extent. For example, if you were to dial in +1.0 exp comp and -1.0 flash

    comp, it would cancel each other but only for this scenario where the ambient light is low,and your flash is your main source of light.

    Where the ambient light levels dominate, and flash is used as fill -flash only, then differentalgorithms come into play, and you have other factors such as max sync speed and availableapertures affecting the scenario as well .. and hence the flash and exposure compensation

    might affect ambient light exposure differently then.

    But with Canon, flash exposure compensation and general exposure compensation arent

    linked, as they are with Nikon. So with Canon, in manual exposure mode, you can only set

    flash exposure compensation and not overall exposure compensation.

    (It is no use asking me how it handles this in any of the auto exposure modes, since I use my

    cameras nearly exclusively in manual exposure mode. Youre on your own there.)


    09 more examples

    flash photography techniques exposure compensation ~ more examples ~just ambient light

    More examples using bounce flash

    How effective our bounce flash looks, depends largely on us being aware of the ambientlight, and the direction of the ambient light and then adding flash to it. Either as a fill, or

    as a main source of light.

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    And we can finesse it by specifically choosing the direction in which we bounce flash. Wecan add to the ambient light, or we can bounce from an opposite direction to lift the shadows

    a bit.

    Any way we decide on it, the image will look better if we put some thought into it, instead of

    shooting direct flash .. or just as bad, in a 45 bounce angle when it isnt appropriate.

    So here are a few more examples to explain the thought process behind some of this


    This photo was taken in a restaurant in Brooklyn, overlooking the Manhattan Skyline. Theinterior of the restaurant was dimly lit and even with the rainy early evening skies, the

    outside was brighter than inside. Using my on-camera flash, I had to balance the two areas.

    The next image shows my initial test shot.

    It might give a better idea of the effect of the added flash.

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    I firstly metered for the outside, and double-checked with a test shot.

    My settings were 1/15th @ f4 @ 800 ISO, with an ultra-wide angle zoom lens.( Equipment: Canon 1D mk2N; 580EX speedlight; Canon 16-35mm f2.8)

    I then added flash by bouncing the flash off the ceiling behind and to the right of me.A test shot showed me I needed to add some flash exposure compensation.

    +0.7 EV looked about right.

    Even though the shutter speed was low, I wasnt too concerned with camera shake, becausethe piano player would be too dark (without flash) for camera shake to be noticeable if I

    handled my camera carefully.



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    This photograph was taken during the

    ceremony in a church where the lightwas enough to squeeze the photos at :

    1/80th @ f2.8 @ 16oo ISO

    But since the walls were light

    coloured, I was able to bounce flashand get some candid portraits of the

    bride with flash.

    If you look at the direction of the lighton her face, youll immediately see

    where I bounced the flash from thewall to my above right.

    specific settings:

    Canon 1D mk2NCanon 70-200mm f2.8 IS

    Canon 580EX speedlight

    1/160th @ f2.8 @ 800 iso

    TTL flash: +1.3 exp comp



    This next image is part of the portrait series I took of the bride and groom of their wedding inAruba. The sun had already set, leaving the colours too cool. I had my daughter hold up a

    gold Lastolite reflector about 2 meters behind me, and bounced my flash into that. This gavea lovely warm colour to the flash, hopefully mimicking the setting sun of 5 minutes before.

    The shadow is more distinct, but still soft enough, and I think it looks natural in this scenario.I also made sure that the amount of flash would blend with the amount of ambient light left.

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    Specific settings: Canon 1D mk2N; Canon 24-70mm f2.8; Canon 580EX speedlight

    1/100th @ f4 @ 640 iso; TTL flash: +0.3 exp comp


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    Earlier in the day, I used the colourful

    backdrop of Oranjestads quaintarchitecture, while photographing the

    same couple.

    The sun was bright and overhead, so I

    had to use flash to lift the shadows. Iused direct flash, since there wasnt

    anywhere to bounce the flash off.

    I also needed to work fast, so thedirect flash was a compromise

    because I had to make the imageswork.

    specific settings:

    Canon 1D mk2NCanon 70-200mm f2.8 IS

    Canon 580EX speedlight

    1/1000th @ f4 @ 100 iso

    TTL flash: -3.0 exp comp


    The execution of this next photo, is similar to the previous photograph of the bride in the

    church. I had to decide exactly where I want to bounce my flash off. This would then dictatethe direction the light would appear to come from.

    The bridesmaids were standing in the open doorway watching her so with a bit of luck I

    was able to bounce my flash so that it lit the bridesmaids in the background. I bounced my

    flash over my left shoulder, hitting part of the ceiling and bedroom wall behind me.

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    Bouncing the flash like this made the light appear directional on the bride, and give some

    modeling. Simply bouncing my flash upright wouldve given flat lighting, and causedshadows under the eyes.

    Specific settings: Canon 1D mk2N; Canon 24-70mm f2.8; Canon 580EX speedlight1/80th @ f4 @ 640 iso; TTL flash: +1.0 exp comp

    From the flash exposure compensation alone, it should be obvious by now that the flash wasmy main source of light here. Even then, my settings were chosen so that some ambient lightwould register.


    10 just ambient light

    flash photography techniques more examples ~ just ambient light ~ which flashgun?

    At this point I just want to show that Im not actually addicted to using a flashgun, (all

    evidence to the contrary), and actually do know when to switch it off especially when the

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    officiant states that no flash will be allowed during the ceremony. An understandablesentiment.

    Also, when the available light is perfect, there is no need to try and enhance it or control it

    with light from a strobe. And then there are times when using flash would destroy great

    ambient light.

    And as with the other pages, the idea is that we be very aware of the quality of the light and

    direction of the light.



    With this wedding, the rabbi informed me a few minutes before the ceremony, that he wont

    allow flash. That is when those f1.4 optics come in really handy!

    Specific settings: Nikon D2H; Nikon 85mm f1.4

    1/100th @ f1.4 @ 500 iso / manual; matrix metering / ambient light only



    Here I asked the bride and groom to dance along the path, away from me towards the grass. I

    took a series of photographs, and in this one image, the dress lifted perfectly. In this scenario

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    I didnt bother using flash since I knew they would be some distance from me. Also, thisimage is more about the movement and gestures, rather than details in faces.

    Specific settings: Nikon D2x; Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 AF-S VR

    1/500th @ f4 @ 400 iso / manual; matrix metering / ambient light only



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    This photograph was taken in the hotel

    lobby, using only the tungsten lightmounted inside a strip, as part of a


    I asked the bride to lean in towards the

    pillar of light, and then had the groomsnuggle in closer. Flash wouldve

    been completely superfluous here and

    destroyed the mood.

    specific settings:

    Canon 1D mk2NCanon 24-70mm f2.8

    1/125th @ f5 @ 640 isomanual; matrix metering

    ambient light only

    I kept the WB purposely very warm

    here, since it adds to the mood

    instead of aiming for a correct WB.



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    I took a series of photographs here

    using flash on-camera and off-camera strobes but when the

    videographer moved behind the brideand groom, I switched it all off, and

    used the video light as back-light.

    specific settings:

    Canon 1D mk2

    Canon 70-200mm f2.8 IS

    1/125th @ f2.8 @ 800 iso

    manual; eval metering

    ambient light only

    Once again I kept the WB purposelyvery warm. It just looks so much better

    than the correct WB where the veil is

    white again.



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    Here too I used the videographers

    light and it helped a lot in that itcreated a spot-light effect on the

    couples faces.

    The rest of the light was just the

    available incandescent lighting of theroom.

    specific settings:

    Canon 1Dmk2Canon 50mm f1.4

    1/80th @ f1.4 @ 1250 isomanual; eval metering

    ambient light only



    The DJs lighting set-up was a good back-drop to shoot against, whether using flash orshooting without flash. I like this image for how the flare enhances the mood.

  • 8/6/2019 Flash Photography Techniques


    Specific settings: Canon 1D mk2N; Canon 24-70mm f2.8

    1/60th @ f2.8 @ 1600 iso / manual; matrix metering / ambient light only


    11 which flashgun?

    flash photography techniques just ambient light ~ which flashgun? ~ flash brackets

    Which is the best flashgun / speedlight / speedlite ?

    One of the most frequent questions I get asked, is what flashgun or speedlight would I

    recommend especially to someone wanting to go beyond just using the cameras built-inflash.

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    Moving away from the cameras built-in flash to a larger flashgun opens up an entire worldwith new possibilities in lighting. Especially so if you are moving up to one one of the

    camera manufacturers dedicated speedlights. The add-ons and gadgets that you find on themarket that are supposed to improve the quality of lighting from the cameras built-in flash,

    are just ways to grab some of your cash without really offering you an improvement.

    To improve your flash photography, you absolutely need to get a larger on-cameraspeedlight. The question then is, which one?

    Each manufacturer offers a variety of options at different price points. I suspect the initial

    reaction for anyone stepping into the world of flash photography, is to be hesitant about

    buying a large and expensive speedlight .. and then they err on the side of caution, getting a

    speedlight that is cheaper, but also limited in specifications and ability.

    But lets step away from the equipment for a few minutes, and consider what we want to

    achieve with flash. So lets look at this candid portrait of a baby held in her mothers arms:

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    To get that specific lighting quality soft and directional light you need to bounce your

    flash. Bouncing your flash gives you a larger light source, and hence softer light.

    But it isnt enough to just simply bounce off the ceiling directly over you. That would giveflat light that gives no shape and form and dimension to your subject. If you look at that

    portrait of the baby girl, you will see that one side of her face has more light than the other.

    It is this interplay between light and shade that gives a quality of light that is both interesting,

    and flattering to our subject. To get there, I had to consider the direction my light needed tocome in from, and I wanted to have the light from my flashgun bounce back from the interior

    of the room to my left-hand side.

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    In order to do all of this get soft directional light from my speedlight it is essential that

    my flashgun has a head that can both rotate and swivel.

    So if you are looking at various speedlights, I would strongly recommend that you dismiss

    any that dont allow the flash head to rotate and swivel. Anything less would just limit you,

    and ultimately be a waste of your money. Youd be better off investing a bit more money in

    a more flexible speedlight.

    Also, in bouncing flash like this, we waste a fair amount of light. It really isnt an efficient

    way to use the light. But .. we arent after efficiency here. We desire light that is flattering

    and then we inevitably come back to those two words soft and directional. So in bouncing

    flash, we waste a lot of energy from our flash, and to be able to get enough light onto our

    subject, we need a strong flashgun.

    Therefore my next recommendation would be to get a powerful flashgun as powerful as

    you can afford.

    I rely heavily on TTL flash technology as you can see on the previous pages and on various

    other posts on this website. So I would strongly recommend a flashgun that is TTL capableand integrates properly with your camera.

    So I would recommend to anyone, even if this is your first foray into buying a speedlight, to

    get the top-of-the-range that the specific manufacturer offers. Even if it seems overkill and a

    lot of money in comparison to your camera or a lens, the combination of flexibility and

    power and integration with your camera system make the larger flashgun the better choice.

    A smaller, less capable flashgun could very well just end up frustrating you in the limited

    potential it offers. A full-featured flashgun loaded with mouth-watering specifications could

    very well make your life easier and your photography more interesting and pleasurable.

    best choices for speedlights / flashguns

    Canon Speedlite 580EX

    Canon (May 10, 2007)


    Nikon SB-900 AF Spee

    Nikon (Jul 26, 2008)

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    $569 00


    y HVL-F58

    H gh-


    y Se 10 2008

    $433 48


    Pr v cy

    So here are the flashguns I woul recommend above all

    If you have a Ni on camera, then the obvious choice is the i on SB Speedlight

    (B A full featured powerful flashgun that has a flash-head that rotates 180 to either

    side, which makes it very flexible in where you can bounce yourlight


    If you have a Canon camera, then my best recommendation would be theCanon 580EX II

    Speedlite (B . This flashgun also rotates 180 to either side, which is an ability that few

    flashguns offer, setting it apart from most flashguns available on the market.

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    .Similarly then, if we look at what is the msot powerful and flexible flashguns available for

    other manufactuers, I would recommend the Pentax AF-540 FGZ P-TTL (B&H), for Pentaxowners.

    Similarly, the Sony HVL-F58AM (B&H) flashgun for owners of Sony D-SLRs.

    And also the Olympus FL-50R(B&H), shoe-mount flash for Olympus users. .

    These flashguns are spendy, but they also wont limit your potential as a photographer.


    12 flash brackets

    flash photography techniques

    which flashgun? ~ flash brackets ~ flash photo tips

    using a rotating flash bracket

    Rotating flash brackets are cumbersome attachments between the camera and flash, which

    enables the flash to always be over the camera. Since the flash is always overhead of thecamera with a flash bracket, regardless of whether youre shooting horisontally or vertically,

    there is no sideways shadow if you use direct flash to some extent, or a flash modifier onyour camera.

    Digital photography technology is steadily improving to the point where we now have

    cameras with fairly clean 1600 ISO settings, and very usable 3200 ISO. It is now ever more

    easy to get great results with bounce flash, and have all the light from the flash be indirect.

    With this, the need for me to use a flash bracket, has been greatly reduced.

    It is now possible for me to get vertical images like these, using on-camera flash, with no

    trace of sideways shadows . because there is no light thrown directly forward from the

    flash itself. It is all indirect. This means there will be no noticable shadow.

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    So these days I get by without a flash bracket. However, a flash bracket would still give youan advantage when you bounce flash such that all the light is indirect and that is that the

    direction of your light source remainds the same between vertical and horizontal photos takenfrom the same position. This consistency in lighting can help.

    Back to the specific topic offlash


    There are various makes of flash

    brackets with a variety of designs. With

    some you have to let go of the lens to

    flip the flash over with one hand. With

    other more elegant designs, you rotatethe actual camera. I prefer the rotating

    flash brackets where the camera rotateswith a deft flick of the hand holding the


    The make I use is Custom Brackets,although the one I originally had, I

    modified with an angle-grinder to make

    it more compact and have less bits

    sticking out.There is a lot of variation

    between the different makes, that it is

    worth checking them out for yourself .

    One of the other highly touted brackets

    by a different company, has such aclumsy design that it was near-

    impossible for me to use the zoomcontrol on my lenses.

    The updated (and more elegant) version of the original flash bracket that I used, is the

    Custom Brackets Pro-M kit, and you can read the review via this link.

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    As mentioned, flash brackets are bulky and add extra weight to the camera, and these days I

    prefer to work without one. But they can help with the consistency of bouncing flash, and

    definitely do help in avoiding side-shadows when using direct on-camera flash is


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    Here is an example of what I mean by the side-ways shadow.It is intentionally a snap-shot to illustrate this, so dont judge me on this please! : )

    Now if you hold your flash horizontally, then the flash shadow will fall behind your subject,

    and would be less intrusive an element in the photograph.

    A flash bracket isnt entirely necessary in daylight, since flash will then mostly be used asfill-flash, and the direction of the flash is of less importance than when using bounce flash


    Besides, there is rarely anything to bounce flash off when working outside, and the loss in

    flash output because of bouncing would most likely render the flash light imperceptible

    compared to bright daylight.

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    a few more observations on the use of a flash bracket:

    When I work indoors, I have in effect a large softbox with me wherever I go by dint of theability to bounce the flash behind me or to the side of me. My specific way of working with

    bounce flash, is most often with the black foamie thing with which I control the direction ofmy bounce flash. It works very well when shooting horizontally, or keep to a horizontal

    framing. But it can be awkward to change the position of the foam I am flagging my flashwith, when I change the cameras orientation. By now I am fairly agile with it, but you really

    are under pressure with a cant-mess-this-up situation like the church processional at a


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    In this photo above, I wanted a vertical shot for this flowergirl coming down the aisle. Thelight on her looks fantastic in my opinion. The bounced flash appears as soft and directional

    light on her. Just beautiful. But if you look at the bottom left of the frame, you can see somedirect flash shadow. Now, no one is likely to notice this unless closely scrutinizing the

    photograph for how it was lit. But for me I know it shouldve looked just that touch better.

    The light shouldve been great over the entire frame.

    I had fumbled the precise positioning of the black foam on my flash, and there is a small

    measure of direct flash to the edge of the frame.

    This is an example of where using a flash bracket wouldve made it easier to control the

    direction of light from my speedlight.

    In the next two examples, the camera was rotated from horizontal position to a verticalposition via a flash bracket. However, the direction of light remains exactly the same since

    the position of the speedlight, relative to the camera and subject, didnt change.

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    Whether a flash bracket is necessary for your specific needs or style of photography and

    whether the additional bulk and weight is something youd be able to cope with, is something

    you have to decide on your own. There are advantages at times.

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    13 flash photography tips

    flash photography techniques

    flash brackets ~ flash photography tips ~ off-camera flash

    flash photography tips

    The preceding pages, and the entire Tangents blog, contain a lot of information, whether

    techniques, ideas, equipment info, or random snippets. The posts cover a wide range of

    subject material, but mostly deal with flash photography, lighting, and general photography

    technique. But Id like to bring the essential topics on flash photography together to one

    solid starting point.

    This page then lists the most important advice that I can give you about flash photography. It

    should be a good jump page for anyone new to this website and new to flash photography. .

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    my top 20 list of flash photography tips


    1. dont fear your flashIt is entirely possible to get amazing results from your flash. Look at the image above. Its

    done with one on-camera speedlight .. bounced properly. Its actually pretty easy once youget used to it. So hang in there ..

    2. you need something better than your cameras built -in flash

    You really do need a speedlight that attaches to your cameras hot-shoe for best results. Yousimply cant get there with just that pop-up flash on your camera. You need something

    bigger. Something that can rotate and swivel. The manufacturers that try and sell you little

    add-ons and gizmos and promise you that you will get great results from your pop-up flash

    after spending a couple of dollars on their crap .. well, they are misleading you. Get a proper


    3. bigger is betterMy advice will always be to get the most powerful speedlight you can afford. The more

    powerful your speedlight, and the more features it has, the more options you have.

    4. bounce your flash for better results The larger your light-source, the softer the light. For that reason we bounce flash. Were

    creating a larger light source. This implies that when were working indoors, and we havewalls and a ceiling around us, that shooting with direct flash straight-on is possibly the worst

    that we can do. We may as well have stayed with the pop-up flash, and saved ourselves some

    money. So, bounce your flash!

    5. use that wall as your softbox!

    Dont be stuck in thinking you can only bounce your flash off the ceiling. Bounce your flashoff the wall(s) behind you, and beside you. Even try bouncing your flash into the open room

    behind you.

    6. try for directional light

    By bouncing off areas to your side, you can get directional light on your subject, instead offlat lighting. Heres another example.

    7. flag your flash

    When you bounce your flash to the side, make sure that there is no direct flash spilling on

    your subject. I use a piece of cheap black foam, held in place with hairbands, to make sure I

    only get soft indirect light on my subject.

    8. allowTTL flash to make your life easier

    TTL flash technology can allow you to get great results easily, but

    9. .. nudge your TTL exposure with flash exposure compensation TTL flash exposure could vary, and it can also give you under or over-exposure. Thats the

    penalty for getting good results easily .. your exposure may vary, unless you adjust your flashexposure compensation. With practice (and a sneak peek at your cameras preview), you can

    pre-judge this to a good degree.

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    10. TTL flash and manual flash are two very different beastsYou have to understand the difference between TTL flash and manual flash, and how their

    behaviour differ. They each have their own benefits. There are those photographers whodisdain TTL flash, and only push one way of using flash manual flash. Youll be a stronger

    photographer in knowing the differences between manual flash and TTL flash .. and being

    able to use either with confidence.

    11. understand maximum flash sync speed

    It is imperative that you understand what maximum flash sync speed is .. and why it is often a

    sweet spot when you use flash.

    12. high-speed flash sync

    High Speed Flash Sync (HSS), also known as Auto FP on the Nikon cameras, allows us to go

    past the limit of maximum flash sync speed. A truly useful feature, but be aware that there is

    a penalty to be paid for going into the higher shutter speeds while using flash.

    13. aperture controls flash exposure? well, maybe

    You will often see this short-cut thrown around. It is true to an extent. But you need to be

    aware that aperture affects manual flash exposure, but not TTL flash exposure. Similarly,you need to be aware that ISO also affects manual flash exposure.

    14. shutter speed controls ambient exposure? .. well, maybe

    This is another short-cut which can be misleading since other photographers may well omit in

    telling you the entire truth that aperture and ISO also affects ambient light. Where that

    shortcut shutter speed controls ambient light actually kicks in, is for manual flash, where

    shutter speed becomes the only independent control for ambient exposure. A subtle but

    important distinction.

    15. gel your flash for tungsten!

    If youre using flash in an environment that is predominantly incandescent lighting / tungsten

    lighting .. and you want your flash to appear more neutral, and not so blue (or your

    background so grunge-orange), then gel your flash to join the incandescent spectrum .

    16. throw away the tupperware

    When working indoors, you can most often get the best results by bouncing your flash. You

    dont need that expensive piece of plastic that is advertised as being the solution to all your

    flash photography problems.

    17. allow available light in

    Sometimes flash is your dominant light source. Sometimes flash is your only realistic

    choice. But it usually looks better if you allow available light to give you some context and

    colour and mood.

    18. start with the available light, and then add flash

    At times it might need a slightly different approach between manual flash, and TTL flash ..

    but invariably, a good starting point when figuring out what you need to do with your flash, is

    to start with your ambient light metering and exposure.

    19. matching, and even over-powering the sun with flash

    We can easily use a speedlight to even out harsh sunlight. But we need to consider our

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    settings. And be aware that going to high-speed flash sync isnt necessarily our best optionhere.

    20. the end will never be in sight

    Learning more about flash photography and lighting is a never-ending journey.

    There should always be the aspiration to become better.

    Thats the challenge, and thats also the good news.


    14 off camera flash

    flash photography techniques flash photography tips ~ off camera flash ~ video light

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    off-camera flash photography

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  • 8/6/2019 Flash Photography Techniques


    The preceding pages mostly deal with how to use an on-camera speedlight to get prettierlight. And where we can, how to seamlessly blend our flash with our available light.

    However, where flash becomes a lot more controllable and perhaps more interesting, is whenyou move your flash off-camera.

    Off-camera flash is quite an extensive topic. Instead of trying to cover it all in just one article

    here, this page will serve as a jump-page to other articles on the Tangents blog where thetopic is specifically off-camera lighting.

    So why would we want to use off-camera flash? The answer is refreshingly simple. With off-

    camera lighting, we have greater control over the direction and the quality of our light .

    And that is it in a nutshell. But lets delve deeper into it


    off-camera flash the techniques

    balancing flash with ambient light where do we even start?

    This article is a good overview to start us off on this topic. The simplest approach for me,

    when I work in fairly flat and even ambient light, is to under-expose the ambient lightby a

    certain amount. Then we add flash for correct exposure. So how much do we under-expose

    the ambient light by? Well, it depends

    balancing your flash exposure with the ambient exposure

    My starting point with on-location portraits is most often is a combination of: finding an

    interesting or neutral background; and positioning my subject so that they are placed in frontof / in relation to the background so that it all looks visually pleasing. And then balancing the

    exposures for my background and my subject

    the effect of maximum flash sync speed

    When we work outdoors in bright light, it is essential that we understand what is happening atour maximum flash sync setting, and why it is a sweet spot when you use flash in bright light.

    tutorial: high-speed flash sync

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    I decided to do a series of comparison photos, so we can actually see what happens before, atand beyond maximum flash sync speed. And we can also see what happens with high-speed

    flash sync. To do this, I set up very simple portrait lighting using a single speedlight and alarge umbrella. A simple white paper-roll backdrop, and our model, Rachel

    using a neutral density filter with flash to control depth of field

    Working in bright light, the limitation of having a maximum flash sync speed forces a small

    aperture on us. That small aperture means more depth of field than we might like. Using aneutral density (ND) filter is our best way to get control over our depth of field again

    using multiple speedlights with high-speed flash sync

    To overcome the loss in effective flash power while in high-speed flash sync mode, you need

    to work very close to your subject, or gang up a number of speedlights as a group

    effective on-location portraits

    When I photograph someone on location, I rely on a simple, yet effective method that will

    ensure that at the very least, I will get portraits that work. Here is a step-by-step method

    off-camera flash bringing sparkle on a rainy day

    Scheduling an on-location photo session, we are always left at the mercy of the weather.

    What gives me the most control though during such a photo session, is the use of off-camera

    flash. This gives me control over the quality and direction of light with relatively little


    positioning the softbox and flash

    The placement of a softbox is generally around 45 to 60 desgrees from the camera; at a

    height where the light is about 50cm above your subjects head; and keeping in mind thecone of light coming from the softbox, and that you have it hit your subjects head &

    shoulders. In other words, you need to aim the softbox at their upper body and head .. andspecifically with that sweet spot of the light coming from the softbox, having to point at

    their heads.

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    why I love off-camera lighting

    The main reason for me, is that you can have perfect lighting on your subjects face with

    much more freedom than if you just relied on the available light. I am usually quite particularabout the backgrounds to my photos, where it is in my control.

    metering for manual flash when using a softbox

    An explanation of a simple method for using off-camera flash with available light. Metering

    for the available light with a hand-held meter, or using the histogram method, we find our

    available light exposure. Then I take my exposure down by 1 stop. I could do this via my

    shutter speed or aperture or ISO choice .. or a combination of those.

    So what are your settings?

    Whatare your settings? - a question that I am often asked about various images. And quiteoften, the answer is surprising it doesnt really matter. Sometimes the specific settings are

    of importance, but usually much less so than the method of getting to correct exposure of theambient light and the flash.

    overpowering the sun with flash

    With a photo session in bright sunlight, I need to clean up the suns harsh shadows with flash.

    -photo session with model, Johannie

    -photo session with models, Sarah & Mark

    photo sessions with the Modern Gypsies

    During various photo sessions with the Modern Gypsies, I used a variety of off camera flash


    y on t e ooftop wit fabric banne s - ove powe in t e sun wit flas y a visit to Times Square on-location li tin wit wi eless TT flas , usin a softboxy Bird Girl - off came a flas , as fill-flas

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    combinging manual off-camera flash with on-camera TTL flash (wedding photography)

    A common technique used in photographing wedding receptions, is to use additional lighting

    to lift the general light levels in large reception rooms. The additional lights can bewirelessly controlled TTL flash .. but more often would be manual flashes. Then an on-camera flash can be used, either in manual, or in TTL.

    Finding the Light

    Another example where I used off-camera lighting (manual flash), with on-camera TTL flash

    to light up a large venue.

    background exposure and flash

    There is often a whole range of possibilities in how we can expose for the background,

    choosing from a range of settings. In this sense, for some backgrounds, there really isnt anyincorrect exposure

    flash and ambient light reverse engineering an image

    Looking at an example image, and figuring out what the photographer did with his lighting.

    By scrutinizing a photo, well try and decipher how he set this up

    using direct (unmodified) flash off-camera

    When working outdoors, my approach has largely been that of using a softbox or some

    modifier so that my flash is more diffuse. But with this shoot, I worked with anotherphotographer who uses direct flash off-camera with great results. It was quite refreshing to

    try something slightly different than my usual method

    simple on-location lighting techniques by Chuck Arlund

    Chuck Arlund is a fashion photographer who explains approach to on-location lighting in this

    article. He achieves dramatic results, but with surprising simplicity

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    NYC photo session Sarah & Mark

    An extended photo session with two models, (a married couple), at various spots in New

    York. This blog entry is a view of the approach during a photo session, and how there is nosingle static way of doing things. Various techniques are used; the lighting too is varied; all togive a wide range to the look of the final images ..

    sequence: setting up the lighting during a photo shoot

    With this post I want to show the thought process in setting up the lighting for portraits

    during a photo shoot for a company. There were a couple of dead ends, and a couple of

    adjustments as we went along

    Lighting the wedding formals (part 1)

    In lighting the formals, I dont try to get all Rembrandt, but prefer a fairly flat way of lightingeveryone. I keep the lighting static for all the images, whether I am photographing one person

    or twenty. With time usually being a real constraint during the wedding day, there simplyisnt the opportunity to play around too much with the lighting .. and I find a simple

    predictable way of lighting works best.

    Lighting the wedding formals (part 3)

    The main benefit of doing the formal portraits (indoors) with manual off-camera flash

    consistency. Since the flash gives off a specific amount of light every time it is manual

    flash after all and not TTL flash and since the flash is on a stand, and therefore at a constant

    distance to your subject .. this means that your flash exposure will be consistent. It will be

    consistent regardless of YOUR position. You can move around.

    more off-camera lighting at weddings dealing with reflective surfaces

    Rooms with wooden panelling are notoriously difficult to shoot in when using flash. This is

    because of the tendency for the light source (flash) to create large hotspots on the wooden

    surfaces. Here is how I avoid those specular reflections in the wooden panelling.

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    Chanel a portrait

    Off-camera wireless TTL flash setup for a portrait of a pet. We had to work fast in the hotellobby to get a portrait of this beautiful whippet, Chanel, for a magazine cover. We had to be

    meticulous about the setting-up of the shoot and still be very flexible during the actual


    the progression of an idea

    A glimpse of how I work, showing the progression of an idea. Not just how the actual image

    was made, but how the idea progressed. And how it was enhanced with off camera lighting

    off-camera flash discussing an image from a workshop on flash photography

    With an idea in mind of how I wanted to position our model in a stark urban setting, I now

    had to decide on the exposure and lighting. The available light at that point was actually

    really good the sun was covered by a layer of clouds, but enough of the sun was coming

    through to give some directional light. However, we wanted to play with some off-camera

    lighting and I wanted to use flash to add a touch more drama

    using flash at a fireworks display

    Photographing people with fireworks in the background, is just an application of the

    technique known as dragging the shutter. Our camera settings are dictated by how we wan