Flash photography

19 Dec

Flash photography

Flash photography is an art and a hard subject to understand. Flash can be hard light, flattering light, added light in low light and a flash can be used to achieve focus in low light.


Always purchased the biggest flash gun of your manufacturer. Sigma flashes have been known to not be consistent in ETTL mode. Why purchase the biggest one? You will need the most power especially if you do not shoot with the biggest aperture lenses (see f1.4). The power will also be helpfull when used in Off camera flash (OCF).

Off camera flash example

There is alot of knowledge to learn about when using flash as main or fill light. You need to understand that a flash is usually 5200K balanced. You need to proper balance your flash gun with gels for the environment in which your are in. In a tungsten environment, you will need to use CTO gels (orange) and in a NEON light area, you need to use Green gels to balance with the ambient light. Proper white balance will need to be achieve for proper results.

Now that your light is properly colour balanced, you need to put your camera in manual mode and your flash can be used in ETTL mode. You need to understand your light meter to properly balance your ambient and flash photography.

Your Shutter speed and ISO will control your ambient light. You will need to overexposed your images by 1/3 of a stop to make your flash look like natural light. Your aperture will control your DOF like usual. If you can only achieve a highest shutter speed of 1/60th of a second then you will need to put your flash in rear curtain sync.

Bouncing your flash…trust me on this!

You should learn to bounce your flash off the walls instead of the celling like demonstrated on the following examples. Don’t be afraid to bounce your flash off of any surfaces…I have made portraits while bouncing my on camera flash off of a reflector, my assistants shirt and even leaves in a tree. Just explore the potential and open your mind to the possibilities.

On camera flash bounced on the wall to the left of the camera.

Here is a mix of natural light and flash. The model is exposed to the natural light of the window and the pool table is illuminated by an Off camera flash

Here is a hint when bouncing your flash on walls. When using a wide angle, you’ll need to bounce it behind you with a direction. When using a standard to telephoto lens, you can easily bounce you flash at a 90 degree angle. The direction of your flash is always depending on the nose. Point your flash where the subjects nose is pointed. This once again where the best manufacturers flash will be useful with it’s 180 degree towards the left and right.

You can see multiple examples on my Event and Wedding photography blog.

AF help from your flash

You can use your flash’s infrared beam to help you achieve focus without using the flash to fill light. You can disable your flash just to allow this focus help to be used.

Small flash big power

A camera flash can create big light. You will just need to at dusk or dawn. You do not get 1100 watts out of a camera to compensate for a full powered sun but you can create amazing images with such flashes.

Read this book it will teach you amazing potential with camera flashes.

The hot shoe diaries from Joe McNally

The stobist a great blog about Off camera flash.

This last picture was done with a on camera flash in ETTL mode with a silver reflector to bounce it and make it bigger. I used CTO gels to shoot in tungsten white balance to make the sky go blue.


Off camera flash is a very popular technique to allow you to add and control your subjects lighting. The technique is used in studio photography, automotive photography, portraiture, event photography, macro photography and more. You will need tools and knowledge to properly exposed your pictures with using OCF.

The first tool needed will be portable flashes. You will have the choice of using portable camera flashes or a powerful set of flashes used with a power pack. Now power will be the main issue here. Like stated before, the camera flash will be powerful enough to illuminate subjects that are in a shadow and when shooting at dusk or dawn. They will not be powerful enough to overcompensate the light from a mid day sun. The second option will give you the power to compensate for mid day lighting but it’s less transportable because of it’s weight.

With both solution you can achieve an amazing quality of light if used properly.

The second tool that will be needed is wireless flash triggers. You can use them manually or in ETTL depending on your budget and need. There are tow brands trusted by the pros, Pocket wizards and RadioPopper. They both can be used in manual setups and in ETTL setups. They are very easy to use and give you an amazing creative control. I chose Pocket wizards since I have been using and trusting that product for over 3 years now. Pocket wizards also give me the opportunity to remote trigger my camera with a special cable.

The third tool needed is knowledge. Don’t be afraid to test at home with dolls, fruits and round objects. They will teach you how light reacts and shapes your subject. You will need to be in manual mode on your camera to control all aspect of the flash and ambient light. The ambient light will be controlled by your ISO and your Shutter speed. (watch your lightmeter) and the amount of flash power will be control by the Aperture. You need to note that this is also in manual power control with the flashes. In ETTL, the flash power will be automatically calculated and control by the amazing flash system.


Here is a fun picture. It was made with one flash and a long exposure. I selected a long exposure to achieve an ambient light capture and flashed the tree at multiple time with my flash in my hand while running around the tree. This way I could pick which part of the tree would be exposed and which one would not be. The orange sky is from the city’s light.

I hope you enjoyed the information if you have question’s, feel free to ask them via comments.


One Response to “Flash photography”


  1. Portrait photography « real photo tips - January 6, 2011

    […] You should take the time to read the post on flash photography here. […]

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