Flash Photography Tips

January 26, 2015 Categories: Blog



Opening Thoughts

Many who know me will smile reading this, as I am an ambient light guy who uses reflectors and fill flash to best showcase the natural light that is available.

And to be honest, I struggle with artificial lighting when I haven’t used it regularly. If you’re really good with artificial lighting techniques, you’ve spent a lot of time mastering this very tricky craft. And if you’ve taking a course to learn more about studio lighting as I have, you will know how much knowledge and skill is required.

Photographers who shoot portraits / commercial must keep in mind one simple fact. You are expected to be professional and get the job done quickly and with good results. A good photographer will have a recipe to help setup differing shooting situations, possibly writing these down. I’ve done this over the years and find it helpful in getting ready for a shoot.

To know good lighting technique is only one part of making a great image. We’ve all seen images where the lighting worked but unfortunately other components didn’t (one example being a distracting background or a poor shooting angle). I am noticing more images where as a whole things didn’t work well, which to me says that photographers are either inexperienced, rushed or both.

It’s very important to understand who you are working for and what the intended result is before starting. This helps you as a photographer gives the client what they require and also offer pricing options that are appropriate.

It’s also a fantastic idea to bring your creating energy into this type of work. When thinking about some of my favorite images there is always something unique or special about things like angle of light, amount of light and structure of composition. This creates mood which is essential to great images.

What is flash and why do we use it


Think about your flash as very powerful light source. It’s like the light produced from the average table lamp over several hours, available to you in an instant.

We use flash to create light where there is limited or no light, to enhance a situation by filling shadow areas like someone’s face, or to create a specific effect.

So it’s essential to know some basic technique.

How to use your on camera flash for best results

All new cameras in combination with a flash by the same manufacturer should offer this feature, an easy way to get started taking great flash images. In this mode, your camera and flash work together to predict the light required to properly illuminate your subject.

1.       Use TTL / E-TTL (let “through the lens” technology work for you) 

All new cameras in combination with a flash by the same manufacturer should offer this feature, an easy way to get started taking great flash images. In this mode, your camera and flash work together to predict the light required to properly illuminate your subject.

2.       Bouncing Light










Rather than direct your flash at your subject which can produce harsh results, a good option is aim you flash at a something white or light in  colour allowing the light to reflect or bounce off this surface and then to your subject. You can bounce from a ceiling or wall by directing you flash to this surface. I there is nothing that seems to work you can bounce from a reflector. The first time you try this you will have to be patient as there is a bit of a learning curve, but the results are quite powerful when you get it working.  Many flash heads have small white bounce card that can be used push light forward if the flash is pointed at the ceiling (in this case you are pushing light from more than one angle towards your subject).

*Note – bounce flash does work in automatic mode using TTL, but is more commonly used in manual modes. If you keep your subject is a similar location you will reduce setup times.

3.       Diffuse your Light Source

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There are many diffusers on the market and some work better than others. It’s essential to have one as many shots happen quickly and diffused light allows you to soften the light intensity. These devices all attach to the flash head and create an obstacle for light leaving the flash, thus softening the light. You might even attach a diffuser when bouncing light.

*Note – a diffuser allows you to directly face your subject or use a bounce surface. Diffusers can be used in TTL mode or manual modes. I like this feature in a manual mode as you can add or reduce flash power as needed.

4.       Understanding Sync Speed












Sync speed is the fastest exposure your camera will shoot using flash or any kind of artificial light. Most manufactures offer speeds up to 1/250 of a second. If you shoot above the sync speed your image will be partially blacked out as the shutter will not be fully closed during flash exposure. If you stay above 1/60 of a second you will have sharp images as going significantly lower can produce blurred results.

*Note – there are ways around sync speed restrictions, but these can be the focus of another article.

5.        Understanding Light Falloff


To keep it simple, every flash or strobe has a working range. You need to experiment working 8 feet from your subject as opposed to 15. Of course one can adjust intensity of light produced, but you might be forced to work from certain distance from your subject, so it’s good to know what results your flash will produce. A good example of light fall off is a photograph of a group of people at a long table where the camera / flash are shooting the full depth. What happens invariably is the exposure is inaccurate showing strong highlights up front and near darkness towards the far end of table. If you are using a single flash for this type of shot your only option is to move your subjects to a similar distance from the camera ensuring faces are not hidden in pockets where light will not reach. In this setup you can project light forward while bouncing light from the ceiling spreading a nicely diffuse light across the entire group. I often use a fill flash when shooting nature in close.

*Note – if you are trying to light a group in a dark setting boosting your ISO will offer assistance.

6.        Fill Flash

fill2Fill flash is an amazing tool and can be used on a variety of subject matter. The most common use of fill is when doing portraiture under ambient light. In a case like this you’ve found amazing light to use but you notice there are dark areas (i.e. the eyes) that need some added light. You might first try reflecting light into dark areas and if this doesn’t give you optimal results you can offer fill from your flash. Simply find the right angles for adding light and dial in the intensity required, then bounce or fire directly toward the subject.

*Note – Using a TTL cable. This offers photographers the ability to bring the flash off the camera and still enjoy the benefits of the computer systems and shutter release from your camera. The nice part of having the flash off you camera is that you can bring light from any direction (in most cases this will require a stand for the flash of an assistant to hold it).

7.        Bringing the Flash off camera

off camera

As noted under fill flash you can bring your flash off your camera with TTL cable, with most cameras today you can also bring your flash off the camera without any cables. You can use wireless settings on your camera or a device such as the PocketWizard to fire a single or multiple flash unit / units.

*Note – this is a more advanced setup and requires some testing to ensure a reasonable level of comfort and of course expected results.

By Tom Kelly


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