Saturday, June 20, 2009

Flash Basics

By Rob Sheppard Published in Shooting
Effects of different flash positions (left to right): 1. On-camera flash produces harsh light and shadow, with a flat look to the face. 2. Off-camera flash creates dimensional light with a strong shadow. 3. Off-camera flash, bounced with a white reflector from the right, produces soft, even light and shadows. 4. Off-camera flash bounced off of a white ceiling above creates a natural-looking light.
Effects of different flash positions (left to right): 1. On-camera flash produces harsh light and shadow, with a flat look to the face. 2. Off-camera flash creates dimensional light with a strong shadow. 3. Off-camera flash, bounced with a white reflector from the right, produces soft, even light and shadows. 4. Off-camera flash bounced off of a white ceiling above creates a natural-looking light.
Photoflex Reflector Translucent

An easy way to get started is to get a piece of foam board about 2x3 feet in size. This is a readily found size, and it’s small enough to easily use. Have someone hold it, or clamp or tape it to something on one side of your subject. Then use your off-camera flash and point it at the foam board from a distance of a couple of feet. You need to have it far enough from the reflector that it spreads out the light, but not so far that it spills over the edges. Move the reflecting board up and down, as well as side to side for different effects.

If you get serious about this, you can then buy a folding reflector or diffuser. Use the reflector in the same way described for the foam board. The diffuser requires a little different technique. You must position it in between your flash and subject. Keep the flash far enough back to fill up the diffuser with light without spilling over. If you’re too close to the diffuser, the light won’t spread out much, so the effect will be greatly reduced.

Use Flash for Sharper Close-Ups

Close-up and macro photography always challenge our abilities to get a sharp photo. First, up-close depth of field is very narrow, often severely limiting sharpness. Second, at close distances, the effect of camera movement or shake during exposure is exaggerated, so sharp photos become more difficult. Third, if you use a small aperture or ƒ-stop for more depth of field, you’ll be saddled with a slower shutter speed, making camera movement worse. Finally, gear such as macro lenses and extension tubes will reduce light, so even slower shutter speeds are required.

Flash can help. Flash gives such a brief burst of light that it’s usually like using shutter speeds of 1?10,000 sec. and even faster. This effectively limits the effects of camera movement. In addition, when flash is used up close, there’s a lot of light to work with, allowing you to use small ƒ-stops such as ƒ/16 or ƒ/22, resulting in more depth of field.

A key to getting better flash photos up close is to get the flash off the camera as described above. When your subject is close to your camera, even a slight change in flash position can give you noticeably different results. You can even try putting the flash somewhat behind the subject for dramatic effects. You can aim the flash right at the subject; you can aim it so the flash hits both the subject and the background; or you can aim the flash so it just hits the subject and not the background.

The key to learning all of these techniques is to try them. Test them out with a willing subject, even if that’s just a statue that can’t complain. Check your results in your LCD and experiment. Don’t worry if every shot isn’t a winner. As you explore using flash, however, you’ll find flash becomes a potent tool for making more winners!

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