Shedding some light on the subject……

Last week, I gave a few tips that would help you get the tack sharp photos that we all want when we click the shutter.  This week, I’m going to purposely complicate things a bit.  The equation changes a bit when you start introducing a flash to the equation.  If you’ve been thinking about adding a flash to your arsenal but am a bit intimidated by the thought, you’re not alone.  Most photographers have been there, including yours truly!  I’m going to try to begin scratching the surface, but I’m going to try to keep it as simple as possible.  A great photographer who taught me a great deal taught me that photography is all about light, composition, and two-dimensional thinking.  Here are a few basic things anybody looking to get into flash photography should know:

1. Flashes don’t actually illuminate subject matter. OK, they do…..HOWEVER….that’s now how they actually work.  A flash actually throws light on your subject and the light that bounces back is what your cameras sensor picks up.  The further away your subject is from the flash source, the more powerful flash you need.

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2. Flash illumination efficiency is dramatically affected by distance. After a certain point, your flash simply doesn’t have enough power to effectively illuminate your subject and reflect light back to the camera.  While digital cameras can adjust ISO (the higher the ISO, the more effective your flash becomes at any given distance) and aperture to help compensate, after a point, you’ll simply be asking the flash to provide more power than it is capable of.

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3. Understanding the Guide Number. This one is gonna get a bit technical.  The guide number for an electronic flash is a way of quantifying its maximum output in terms that a photographer can relate to – aperture and distance. The guide number (GN) is the product of the aperture (f/ stop) and distance (from flash to subject) combination that will result in enough light for proper exposure.  Often times the price of a flash is in direct relationship to the guide number; the higher guide number the more illumination at a further distance it will have.

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4. Bouncing the flash. Light will reflect and refract off of objects and often times a straight on flash will not give the desired results, especially when shooting people.    You can soften the light from the flash by bouncing it, most commonly off a ceiling or a wall.  Angle your flash head at 45 degrees or off a wall at 45 degrees for a side bounce.  When there is no ceiling or wall to bounce off of, a reflector can help diffuse the light and simulate a ceiling.

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5. Get the flash off the camera. If you REALLY want to make progress with your flash photography, get the flash off of the camera.  Moving the flash off of the hot shoe by utilizing a flash bracket has two main advantages.  When shooting people, moving the flash further away from the lens will near totally eliminate all chances of red-eye.  Secondly, almost all flash brackets have a hinge.  This allows them to rotate 90 degrees so the flash stays above the lens when shooting vertically, giving you a more pleasing shadow and avoiding the side flash.

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Shooting with a flash can add a whole new dimension to your photography but a clear understanding of how flash works and more importantly how to use it, is essential.  This post just barely begins to get into the basics of flash photography.  I’ll dive into the topic deeper in a future post.  For now, start with reading the manual for your flash cover to cover and making sure you know how it works and what each setting does.  That’s a solid start.

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