Tips And Tricks

Times You Should Use Your Flash

By Christine Buijis,

Your external flash is your best friend in times when the available light just isn’t strong enough to illuminate your subject. We’ve all used flash at one time or another to help take group shots at events or parties, but how do we go beyond that harsh, snapshot look and get more out of our flash?

There are ways we can use our flash to solve problems and even manipulate it to create more pleasing, natural looking lighting – even when there is none available.

Bounced Flash

Bounced Flash

Bounced flash is achieved by pointing your flash at a nearby wall or ceiling in order to create a more natural-looking light source, rather than directly at your subject which causes harsh shadows and contrast. Some flashes have swivel heads that allow them to point to the side or diagonally in addition to up and down. This feature is extremely useful and you should experiment with different positions – try pointing the flash directly at the ceiling, angled 45 degrees backwards, 45 degrees forward, or directly to your right or left off a wall. The results should be light which either looks like room light or window light, and it will be much softer and diffused and therefore more flattering. Of course, the ceiling or wall needs to be relatively close (no more than 10 feet away) for this to work, and the closer you are to the wall or ceiling, the stronger the effect will be. If there are no walls or ceilings to work with, you can also bring along a bounce card (just a simple white piece of foam core will do) or a reflector and bounce off of that.

Diffused Flash

If you’re going to be in a situation where no walls or ceilings are available, such as an outdoor situation, you can use one of the many different flash diffusers available to help soften the light. These work independently of walls and ceilings but help to create a more flattering look similar to the bounced flash effect.

Fill Light

Using your flash is not just restricted to nighttime or dimly lit rooms. You can also use it on sunny days or in any situation where you want to fill in unwanted shadows on your subject. To achieve this, you need to get a good overall exposure of your subject. Then, direct your flash at the shadowy areas. You may want to decrease the power of the flash to -1 or -2 (most flashes allow you do this on the flash itself) to help blend it with the scene a bit better. You can also still use a diffuser to help soften the light and make it look more natural. Fill flash is a great way to help with backlit situations on sunny days, and to help eliminate “raccoon eyes” that people get from standing directly under the sun at midday.

Fill Flash

Freezing Action

Flash is an extremely useful tool for helping to freeze action in sports photography. The quick burst of the flash will help to freeze that key moment and allow additional lighting on your subject. Even if your shutter is a slightly longer exposure (this is called a “dragged shutter”), the flash will freeze the action exactly at the moment it fires. In fact, a dragged shutter can help add an additional sense of motion and action to the shot.

Studio Lighting on the Go

External flashes can also be easily attached to studio stands, and used with umbrellas to create portable lighting setups wherever you go.  This is extremely useful when traveling or even if you just want to take great portraits in a pinch.  Many flash units now have wireless control built in to them so you can do 2 or 3 light setups.  If they don’t have this feature, they are easily adapted with wireless flash triggers.  Our Mastering Flash workshop covers these techniques in great detail and is extremely useful for anyone looking to get the most out of their flash.

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