Working with Flash Photography
How to use on Camera (pop-up and flash gun)
Now and again when I am out and about shooting weddings or family events and portraits I get the question, why do you use flash that is not attached to the camera?
As much as I believe that it is down to how you want to light and have your clients portrayed in a particular scene, harsh shadows, hard light or even just to make sure you get that all incredible sky during sun set or sun rise, for me it is a matter of technical taste and preference.
The easiest way to explain a major difference in "On Camera" and "Off Camera" flash is that On Camera flash often leaves only one direction of light hitting the subject, which is the same angle as the camera pointing at the subject.
This tends to leave a very one dimensional view of the subject and has a tendency to look flat in an image.
Of course, there are times when on camera flash needs to be used, for example, if you're photographing fast moving subjects such as cyclists or cars and you don't have the time to setup off camera flash.
A lot of the questions I get asked about flash is why do I get pictures with "red eye"?
Well, this is simply down to the lack of control over the flash, whether it is the built in flash on the camera of you are using a nice flashy (no pun) flash gun.
Because flash is very harsh at the best of times, when you fire a flash at someone when taking a picture and the bright light hits the back of the retina it reflects the light back very quickly and this is captured by the camera.
In this situation one of the best ways to counteract this, if you're using a flash gun is to "bounce" the light off a ceiling or adjacent wall, this acts as a soft box and actually softens the blow of the light.
This will provide a nice soft balance to the light hitting the subject but also allows for the eyes to cope with the incredible amount of light that is hitting the nerves behind the pupil and compensate accordingly, therefore reducing if not even removing in most cases, "red eye".
Below is an example of an image captured by myself during the "Bridal Preparation" of the bride where there has been off camera flash used but in such a way that it is from above and softened.
You can see looking at the eyes just how much light has got into them and brought out the detail of the eye without causing "red-eye".
By directing or "bouncing" your flash you can achieve so much more depth and contrast than you can by simply placing it on your camera and pointing it directly at your subject.
The further away your flash is from the subject, the higher the spread of light on and around your subject, so, for example, if you have your flash at say 10 feet from your subject and the flash is set to at a wide angle (meaning that the amount of flash will spread out and to the sides) then the amount of light actually hitting your subject is less than if the flash was at 3 feet and at the same wide angle.
The other thing to remember with flash is the closer the flash is to the subject the less coverage there will be of anything in the background, imagine car headlights at 100 feet behind a car lighting up all the road and then the same again, at 50 feet but closer to the car in front, the light will be more harsh on the car in front but less around the sides.
So, if you wanted a black background, simply reduce the light power but move it physically closer to your subject and you will have a dark background with some very subtle shadows on the subject.
Some people are afraid of shadows, not just those in the dark, the ones in pictures. There is absolutely no need to be as they are sometimes necessary to convey emotion, tone, style and the dimensions of a subject.
Why not try yourself and see. If you don't have a flash gun and would like a reasonably cheap one, have a look on eBay or Amazon and look for Yongnou, they are reasonably priced and aimed not only at amateurs but also at professionals. I use Yongnou and have done for several years now and they are fantastic.
Want to know more about Flash Photography then why not visit this great resource which has interactive lessons that will do more than teach the basics. Visit Strobist - Lighting 101
Stay posted for more helpful hints and tips in the next few weeks.