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Flash Basics


With an accessory flash that allows the flash head to tilt to the ceiling, you can bounce light indirectly to your subject. That way the light that hits your subject comes from a big light “source”—the light bounced from the ceiling. This immediately softens the look of the flash. In addition, the light will come from a more natural direction above your subject.

You do need a white ceiling for this to work, and lower ceilings work better than high ceilings. If you’re very close to your subject, you may run into a problem of the light from above causing unwanted shadows under the subject (dark eye sockets can be a problem). One thing that helps is to place a white card at the back side of your upward-pointing flash (use a rubber band to secure the card) so that a little light is kicked forward toward your subject, even though most of the light heads to the ceiling.

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Get Your Flash Off The Camera

An on-camera flash may be convenient, but for more control, get your flash off the camera. You’ll immediately see a change in the light—it will become more multidimensional and far more attractive.

You can buy a dedicated flash cable to tether your flash to the camera for complete automatic control (and control that works in all conditions). A lot of newer cameras now offer wireless flash capabilities. This allows you to have an off-camera flash without constricting cables.

An easy way to handle this flash is to hold your flash in your left hand with your “pointing finger” on top of the flash. Now just point that finger at your subject and you’re also pointing your flash. Experiment with flash coming from all sorts of angles just to see what the possibilities are.

Bounce the Light from a Reflector or Through a Diffuser

Two things consistently help you get better flash results: changing the angle of the light to your subject and increasing the size of the light.

You don’t increase the size of the light by buying a “bigger” flash. That gives you more power, but the size of the light is basically the same. You increase the size of the light by bouncing it onto a large surface (such as the ceiling mentioned earlier) or shooting through a large diffuser (a small diffuser has little effect). You need to have the light that’s hitting your subject come from a large surface area.

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