Types of lighting

So a while ago a photographer friend came to me and told me how she recently had a client who told her that a real professional photographer doesn’t use flash.

Yeah, I had to hear the sentence a couple of times, mouth wide open, in full surprise that someone would ever think that! Not because flash is bad or gets a bad rep for being a little too harsh sometimes but let me say this for everyone, clients and photographers:

ALL PHOTOGRAPHERS SHOULD KNOW HOW TO USE DIFFERENT TYPES OF LIGHTING.

Whew, there, I said it. This means that flash, studio strobes, hot lights, flash lights, and even construction lights should not go to waste when the can help you achieve the look that you want and get your shot.

Yep, used flash here to fill in my clients’ faces in order to get the color from the stained glass in the background.

Yep, used flash here to fill in my clients’ faces in order to get the color from the stained glass in the background.

When a photographer can use both artificial light and natural light, there is nothing that photographer can’t create! Don’t limit yourself and jump in today because we’re gonna talk about using flash.

WHY USE FLASH AT ALL?

Okay, let’s start with this all too common question. A flash is a more portable studio light that can help you add light to your photographs when needed. See, the thing with photography is that even though it’s modeled after our own eyes, it doesn’t have the ability to expose for both foreground and background.

Not just for people, but for details and still life too. Pointed directly at the ceiling to bounce light.

Not just for people, but for details and still life too. Pointed directly at the ceiling to bounce light.

Artificial lighting is there to help light your scene evenly and not be limited to natural lighting situations. Which, let’s face it, as photographers natural light can sometimes backfire on us with really harsh days, or even worse, cloudy days where the sun hides behind clouds and throws off your exposure every couple of frames. Those are the worst in my opinion.

External flashes, and pop-up flashes, help to fill in light on a scene that otherwise would need too much photoshop or to do a composite which also takes up valuable time.

Used flash in a small room to create these portraits.

Used flash in a small room to create these portraits.

Multiple flashes can be used to create your own studio and light scenes that you have pictured in your head just right so that your creation can come to light. This is where you manipulate the light to do exactly what you want in a photo.

sunset-time-photos-beach.jpg

Flash is portable, lightweight, and easy to use in any photographic situation. Having one doesn’t mean you’ll always use it or that you have to like it, it just means that you have in your bag more possibilities.

EXTERNAL FLASH MODES

This debate is like the RAW vs. JPEG and Canon vs. Nikon. I can only let you know my own experience with both modes on external flash and why I prefer Manual Mode in all situations.

Left: without flash, blown out sky. Right, with flash, richer colors and you can see the orange in the sky and a bluer sea.

Left: without flash, blown out sky. Right, with flash, richer colors and you can see the orange in the sky and a bluer sea.

TTL

Let’s start with TTL which is an abbreviation for “through the lens”. This is where the flash meters the output of light based on the information of exposure metered through the lens of the camera.

It will choose the best output for you as you focus your camera and fire off. In TTL you don’t have to think about the flash much because it’s doing its own thing. You can use compensation +/- to get more or less output from your flash, which is pretty effective if you want to control the flash a bit.

However, my complaint with TTL is that it often meters the output differently from photo to photo. Meaning, one photo taken in the same spot may have a different flash output than the second photo and so on. Which to me is really inconsistent and super frustrating.

These were all shot in manual mode with two flashes. One on camera and one camera left pointed at my clients.

These were all shot in manual mode with two flashes. One on camera and one camera left pointed at my clients.

MANUAL

When I learned about manual, it was a little hard to catch on at first because I had only had experience with controlling strobes in a studio and not a flash on location. Took a little bit of trial and error to get the output right for each situation but it was a total game changer because once you had your correct output you then didn’t have to change it unless you moved into a different lighting situation.

Every single one of these photos was shot using flash!

Every single one of these photos was shot using flash!

For example, I’m on a beach during midday sun and need the flash to compensate with the sun. I put my flash pointed directly at my clients at 1/2 power. Which is a pretty high output and I need it because the sun behind my clients is really bright, causing all kinds of shadows on their faces and lots of lighting mess.

I put it at 1/2 power and see that it works perfectly. Now, I can go about my entire session when I want flash and not have to guess, change, or move the output at all. It’s consistent and I know I’m getting exactly what I want in that particular lighting situation.

Yep flash again! With a big soft box attachment to soften the light. Black and white in photoshop.

Yep flash again! With a big soft box attachment to soften the light. Black and white in photoshop.

Or another example, I’m photographing a bride getting ready and I have the flash bouncing off the ceiling at 1/16 power. I take a photo, see it’s not enough output and so I change it to 1/8. Leave it on 1/8 for the entire getting ready because won’t be changing rooms and I can have consistent flash output each and every single frame.

Manual mode helps me to get consistent exposures and makes me work less by trying to compensate the flash either up or down each time I take photo.

BOUNCING, DIFFUSING, AND SLAVING

Flashes are so great because they’re portable little tools in your bag. Need to photograph a headshot but want to create that studio lighting effect? Flash. Want to light a reception with two flashes to get some cool flare? Flash. Want to add soft lighting to a bridal portrait to make it look like window light? Flash. All of these scenarios are perfect for flash. Which also requires the use of bouncing, diffusing, and slaving.

Both images have flash. Placed on a light stand and my assistant holding it so that I can move around and the light stays the same each time the flash fires.

Both images have flash. Placed on a light stand and my assistant holding it so that I can move around and the light stays the same each time the flash fires.

BOUNCING

This is when your flash is pointed at something and bounces the light back onto your subject, object, or where ever you want it to land.

The most common is bouncing it off a white ceiling. I also like to bounce light off an adjacent wall to create more depth and shadow in the photos. But, that’s all preference and you’re the boss of what want your flash to do.

DIFFUSING

All of these images have flash because it was super hot, bright, and I was competing with the sun (see the shadows?) Kept my clients out of the harsh sunlight and got the portraits lit evenly. Can’t even tell I used flash.

All of these images have flash because it was super hot, bright, and I was competing with the sun (see the shadows?) Kept my clients out of the harsh sunlight and got the portraits lit evenly. Can’t even tell I used flash.

Diffusers are useful in that they make the flash light softer. You can use the diffuser that came with your flash to soften light, or a mini-softbox, or I’ve even seen a trash bag used to diffuse light. The point is to soften the light making it more even across your scene.

SLAVING

This means that you “slave” one or more flashes so that they fire off at the same time. For this you’ll need either a transmitter and receiver or flashes that communicate with one another. Some flashes have a slave mode and when they detect the light fire from a flash with in range, that flash fires as well.

One flash on a stand behind the bride slaved to the one on camera.

One flash on a stand behind the bride slaved to the one on camera.

Slaving can be really useful in studio lighting situations where you need to light different parts of the stage with light at different output power. Or if you’re lighting a reception venue and want to make sure that you have light for any angle within the venue.

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Flash can be subtle or intentional. You’re the photographer and you can create more with flash.

Flash can be subtle or intentional. You’re the photographer and you can create more with flash.

In the end, flash is such a great too for ALL PHOTOGRAPHERS and knowing how to use them is really helpful for lots of different lighting situations.

You could even use you cell phones flash to get familiar with lighting angles. Video lights also work for still light and getting to know how light works within a frame.

And never let anyone tell you that flash isn’t for professional photographers because the more you know, the more you can create.

That’s it for this weeks Photographer Friday friends! Post your thoughts in the comments below!