Photography - Knowledge

Photography Basics: Master the Art of Flash Photography

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Taking photographs in natural light in an ideal setting is the dream of all photographers. However, in reality, such ambient natural lighting conditions are not possible most of the time. This is where flash photography will come to your rescue. While the general perception about photography using a flashlight is not very enthusiastic, some enviable shots can be taken with a flashlight. If you are unsure of how to use the flashlight to enhance your photographs, we are here to help you.

Photography for beginners usually has the flashlight as one of its components. This tends to scare photography enthusiasts who are just starting their tryst with the camera. This is because they feel that having a strong light next to the objects will make it difficult for them to get good pictures. On the contrary, flash photography, if done correctly, can give you such fabulous images that are difficult to achieve otherwise. Let's find out how you can use flash photography to bring a wow factor to your photos. 

Basic Terminology in Flash Photography

First, it is important to understand the terminology of flash photography for beginners, as is explained below:

  • The Flash

Unsurprisingly, the flash is the main component of flash photography, along with the camera of course. Different types of cameras have different provisions for flash. Point and shoot cameras have an inbuilt flash that casts light on the subject when such a setting is chosen. More advanced cameras like DSLRs have the option of attaching an external flash to them

Alternatively, you may also use speed lights or strobes, mono-lights or studio lights. These external flash units are stronger than inbuilt ones and can give highly intense lighting on the subject. Using the flash creatively will flood you with flash photography ideas.

flash photography
Flash set on DSLR camera 
  • The Hot Shoe

This is the spot on your camera where the flash will be mounted. This is only present in cameras that allow integration with external devices. The hot shoe mostly resides directly above the viewfinder.

hot shoe for flash photography
Hot shoe to mount the flash (source)
  • Smart Flash Technology

Many advance cameras like Nikon and Canon have developed the concept of smart flash units. This refers to their patented technology like iTTL (Nikon) or eTTL (Canon) that allows the flash and the camera to communicate and decide the optimal light required for taking a picture in a given set of conditions. However, in any flash photography tutorial, you will be advised to experiment with the settings manually before deciding to settle with TTL.

  • Synchronization Speed (Sync Speed)

The fine balance between shutter speed and flash that gives optimum pictures is the sync speed. Most cameras have a pre-set sync speed for night mode photography. This enables good quality pictures in night conditions.

Few Tips and Tricks for Flash Photography Beginners

Now that you have an idea about the photography basics when it comes to flash photography, let us check out some awesome things you can do with your basic equipment.

Tip #1 Bounce off the Light

Really, it is seldom a good idea to use the flash directly on the face of the subject. This will not only have a blinding effect but also most likely overexpose most of the centre of the photograph. The secret to good flash photography is to bounce off the flash on a surface that will reflect it on the subject. For example, the walls, the ceiling or some object kept next to the subject. This will substantially enhance the lighting and give you very well and uniformly lit pictures. 

Tip #2 Explore Flash Compensation Feature of Your Camera

Flash exposure compensation in DSLRs allows you to choose how much flash do you want to cast on the subject. This function is missing in point and shoot cameras but you can use your finger to partly cover the flash in these cameras and adjust its intensity. Having smart flash technology in your camera may help you in this regard, but even cameras without these high-end features, it is possible to play around with flash intensity and get the desired result.

Flash exposure compensation
Adjust the Flash exposure compensation and choose the right light for your shots (source)

Tip #3 Use Flash Diffusers

Flash diffusers can be a lifesaver. Diffusers tend to soften the harsh light coming from the flash. This gives a more uniform lighting and increases the overall quality of the picture. If you don’t have access to a diffuser, placing a white sheet of paper in front of the hot shoe flash will also have a similar effect. This makes a very soft lighting effect and results in a more uniform lighting.

Tip #4 Try Fill Flash

The practice of using the flash feature of a camera in daylight is known as fill flash. This is especially useful for taking pictures when the subject is back-lit by the sun. Fine adjustment of the distance between the camera and the subject and the intensity of flash will give you the perfectly lit shot, where the face of the subject is nicely exposed under the optimal flashlight. Fill Flash is also an excellent way to get a uniform exposure of light under conditions when the sun is on one side or on top of the subject, resulting in a shadow on some parts.

Tip #5 Try Night Portrait Mode/ Slow Sync When Shooting in Dark

This is very useful when you wish to take a picture in dark or night conditions. The slow sync mode slows down the shutter after the flash so that it captures the background nicely. In point and shoot cameras, this mode is called the night mode and in more expensive cameras, it is known as slow sync. Hence you see, regardless of the cost of your camera, you can try flash photography with it.

flash photography examples
Use night portrait mode to capture photos in dark (source)

Tip #6 Explore Flash Gels

If there is a drastic difference in the natural lighting around the subject and the light from the flash, the quality of the picture would not be great, despite your best efforts. Post processing will compensate this to a great degree, but using flash gels will give you pictures of unmatched quality. Flash gels are coloured sheets that alter the hue of the flash. These are very inexpensive tools that add magic to flash photography.

flash gels
Flash gels to bring color to your photos (source)

Tip #7 Trust Your Set Up More Than the Camera Setting

A very important, yet often forgotten point is to completely follow your instinct when it comes to settings. Despite whatever technology your camera has, you should always experiment with the set-up, direction of light and the intensity of light on the subject. At the end, a camera is just a machine and you are the best judge of the kind of photograph you want. Flash photography settings of the camera are much less reliable than your judgement.

Tip #8 Learn the Physics Behind Bouncing of Light

Reading the inverse square law while trying flash photography will be a major advantage for you. This means that your background and foreground will be evenly lit in the photograph. If you understand how well can you apply the principle of bouncing the flash to a particular subject, you will be able to acquire picture perfect moments perfectly. 

Also, the equidistant bounce flash works wonders. If your foreground and background are almost equidistant from the bouncing source, then you get amazing pictures with the flash. These are probably some of the details that you will be told in a professional flash photography course.

Tip #9 Play Around with the Sync Speed

Except for shooting at night, there is no golden value for sync speed that works for everyone. Therefore, the best way to find your perfect shot is to experiment a bit with these settings. This is the last of the flash photography techniques that we wish to cover in this post.

With the above- mentioned hacks, you will be able to brush up your flash photography basics and capture magical moments in perfect lighting. 

Wrapping Up 

It is to be kept in mind that in flash photography, you should be the judge of the direction, intensity and bouncing of flash. The light coming from the flash is the essence of this kind of photography. This is one kind of photography that will not require the use of expensive accessories. If you are motivated by our tips and techniques, then try it out and share your experience with us.

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