Flash photography – Guide to better photos – Part 3

So I almost forgot to write something today as I continue to write about my journey to taking better photo’s and sharing them with you.  So it is 11:55 at night, it was a long day at work, so I really didn’t want to write anything, but felt I needed to write something, since it is my goal to write something every day.

So the topic is Flash Photography.  I will probably write a future article about Flash Photography, as this can take volumes.  So there are  a couple of tips on flash photography.  I will update a future entry and give some examples of what I’m going to discuss today, but I really don’t have anything good in my portfolio that illustrates what I’m going to mention here, so you’ll have to take my word for it.


  1. If you have a DSLR, never, never, ever use the popup flash that comes on the camera.  Unless you are only using it as fill flash, Outdoors.   The pop-up Flash on the DSLR is almost worthless, that is why some of them don’t even come with a flash.  The pop-up flash on a DSLR is usually to underpowered and gives unflattering direct ‘harsh’ light.  It doesn’t give enough light and when you used usually washes out the person your taking a photo of.  It is sometimes better to just raise your ISO to the highest setting and take picture, then to use this flash.   If in a pinch and you do have to use it, the only thing that can help, is take an unfolded white paper napkin and place it over the flash.  This will at least diffuse the light enough to make the flash bearable.  No matter how much post editing you do, the direct light from the Pop-up flash, will look like an amateur  took the photo.  Now if the effect you are going for is to make the photo look like a 6 year old took the photo, then by all means use the pop up flash.
  2. Get a Flash that actually attaches to the top of the camera.  But don’t get one that only points straight ahead.  Get one that rotates, left, right and straight up in the air.  The best one’s can rotate 30, 45, 75 and 90 degrees.
  3. Get a diffuser for your flash.  Sometimes the Flash will come with one.  My Nikon SB700 came with one, it works great.  My SB600 didn’t come with one, but I found one online (amazon.com) that I picked up for about $20.  I also have a more expensive diffuser the Gary Fong LightSphere.  I love the light sphere, definitely does a great job, but it is about $60.  My wife says when I have the dome inverted, it looks like a diaphragm.  I’ll let you be the judge.  You can also get a collapsible Softbox, which I have one of those two.
  4. Find out if your camera can use a Commander / Slave setup and move the flash off the camera.  Even when the flash is on the top of the camera, the flash can make the photos look a little washed out.  But by moving the flash off camera, generally 45 degrees either to the left or right of your subject, you will create dimension in your photos, by casting nature shadows, that will look more realistic.
  5. If you camera doesn’t work with Commander / Slave mode, then look for wireless triggers or even wired triggers.  Do google searches and find out there are 100’s of options.  Find the right one that works for your particular Camera and Flash.
  6. When you get more advanced and want to get into portrait photography, you can get inexpensive or expensive Strobe Lights.  I’ll do a future post on Strobes for Portraits.  But be prepared to spend at least $500, but more than likely even over $1000.
  7. Learn to use your flash by moving it around, bounce it off of walls or ceilings.
  8. Learn to use gel’s on the front of your flash to change the temperature of the light coming out.
  9. Learn how to manually adjust the power of your Flash.  You will find that the default setting is to bright and will need to move the flash farther away from the subject.  If you lower the power of the flash you can get enough flash light to take great photos.   The biggest problem I had when I started doing flash photography was having the power too high and washing out my subject.  So learn to lower the power.
  10. Flash photography can freeze action, which allows you to use lower shutter speeds.
  11. Learn the advantages of rear-sync flash.  I’m not an expert in it, but can make for some pretty cool photos when the object your photographing is in motion.
  12. Get a 2nd Flash and learn to remotely fire both flashes and start making your photos look very professional.  Illuminate a dark background with the 2nd flash while the 1st flash is brightening your subject.  This can make a decent picture look great.  Again apply the different power settings using manual mode on your flash to get the desired effect you want.
  13. Use a Flash when it is sunny outside.  The sun may be blocked by Tree’s, or behind the subject causing the subject to be cast in shadow, or the subject is under tree’s and you are getting shadows across the body or face that don’t look good.  A Fill flash can brighten up the subject and still look nature.
Make sure when you use flash photography that you have your WB and Exposure set correctly.  I typically use Flash WB when I’m indoors, but on fill Flash I set my WB to either Daylight, Shade, or Cloudy depending on my external light conditions.  I use a light meter to measure the light coming from my flash, which helps me set my shutter speed and aperture to the correct setting.  Why guess and take a couple test shots to get it right, when the light meter can get it right the first time.  Good light meters will also measure available light as well as the flash and help determine the correct settings.
Even though you are using a flash, sometimes you may still need to set your ISO to a higher setting.  This typically occurs when it is very dark and your farther away from your subject.  The flash can only fill in so much light, so the camera has to help.
In a previous post I mentioned that you should read your Camera Manual cover to cover.  Well the same applies to your Flash Manual.  Read a section, have the flash in hand, take a few shots and make changes to the flash and take more pictures, keep a journal on your camera settings for each shot.
Record the following
  • Shutter Speed
  • WB Setting
  • ISO
  • Aperture
  • Flash power
  • What was the distance from flash from the subject
When you review your photos compare it to your notes.  This way you can see what the effect of that particular setting was to the quality of the photo. This is how you learn to make the best choice for the conditions you have at the time of taking a photo.  Once you master a particular portion of the flash, go back to the manual and read a new section and learn the next capability, do this over and over until you get the end of the manual. Then read it again.  I recommend reading the manual at least 4 times, and practice each section every time.  Eventually it will set in and you’ll commit it to memory, and before long, you’ll be taking “GREAT” Flash Photography Photo’s.