Saturday, January 17, 2015

Tips for Mastering On-Camera Flash

For the month of January, the 2014 version of Boost Your Photography: 52 Weeks Challenge will be focusing on light and lighting. (Interested in joining the 52 Weeks Challenge? We are also starting a re-boot version kicking off from the beginning: click here to join in for 2015!)

So far, we have looked at natural light and the influence of directional lighting. This week I have rounded up a collection of posts to help you master your on-camera flash.

Limitations of On-Camera Flash

Before we talk about what on-camera flash can do, it is useful to know the limitation. The biggest limitation of on-camera flash is its location. The built-in flash with your camera is positioned in one location and will point only in that one location. You have more options with a separate camera flash unit attached to your camera, as they are generally adjustable and can be pointed in different directions, but they are still attached to your camera at a set position.

Distance is another big limitation with any kind of flash. The power of light is inversely proportional to distance. (For those of you who are not the daughter of a math teacher, that means that the power of light fades tremendously and quickly over fairly short distances. A light strong enough to illuminate a subject well that is one foot away will only work one-quarter as well at two feet away and one-ninth as well at three feet away.) This is why it is foolish to use your on-camera flash in a darkened auditorium, for example. Your light is just never gonna get there.

On-camera flash is also often criticized for being 'harsh' lighting or for causing your subject to cast extreme shadows. Later in this post we will discuss methods for diffusing your flash - allowing the light to better spread out and more evenly illuminate your subject.

Tips for Better Shooting with Your Built-In Flash

The flash that is built into your camera is most useful for being the flash that you always have with you. These quick tips below will help you make the most of your built-in or pop-up flash.

Get in close. We discussed the inverse square law above. If you are shooting a subject with your built-in flash, you need your camera to be fairly close to that subject. (Think, less than 10 feet away.)

Balance your light. With many DSLR cameras and even some point-and-shoots, you can modify the strength of your flash unit, which allows you to better balance the light coming from your flash vs. the rest of the light in your scene.

Diffuse or redirect your flash. Diffusing your flash is covered in more detail below, but you can hack some pretty DIY solutions to diffusing your built-in flash unit. My favorite is to use a piece of tissue paper and drape it over your pop-up flash. When the flash triggers through the tissue paper, it spreads out, becoming more diffuse and more pleasing to the eye. Now it will not create that shadowed, deer-in-the-headlights look common to built-in flash portraits. Other photographers recommend using a white business card to redirect the light - aiming it up and bouncing it off the ceiling, for example. Give it a try!

Tips for Mastering Your On-Camera Flash Unit

Upgrading from the built-in flash to an additional on-camera flash unit can make a big impact in your flash photography options. While many brand-name flash photography units exist, there are also many highly-rated flash units that can be had for much cheaper.

The Yongnuo brand of flashes from China are highly regarded by photographers on a budget. They do not offer TTL (through the lens). TTL allows you to operate and control your flash directly through the camera. With the Yongnuo flashes, you have to choose the settings on the flash directly and adjust your camera's settings accordingly, which means a lot of manual shooting. Popular flash units that include the TTL feature include Canon Speedlites and Nikon Speedlites, which are much more user friendly.

The biggest improvement with on-camera flash units is your ability to adjust the direction of the flash and to bounce your flash, rather than aiming it directly at your subject. You may have noticed that many wedding photographs aim their flash nearly directly up when shooting indoors. This allows them to bounce the flash off the ceiling, creating a less-directional and more even light. (Remember the inverse square law however - the higher the ceiling, the less light coming back to your subject.)

The video above from Adorama TV shares a hands-on look at using your on-camera flash and bouncing it off of different locations and pieces of equipment. This is a great introductory video if you are looking to get the most out of your on-camera flash unit.

This post pinned above, 8 On-Camera Flash Tips, is chock-full of super simple ways to hack your on-camera flash to improve your photographs, from adding a flag, smoothing out the light, and using different settings. These quick tricks can make a biggest difference in the quality, direction, and style of light coming from your flash.

Try Using Your On-Camera Flash

Flash photography is a whole different ball game from using natural light, and learning how to use and manipulate your flash will help you make the most of any photography situation. Whether you have the built-in flash on your camera or an additional on-camera flash unit, spend some time this weekend experimenting with what they can do for you! (If you want to really get fancy with your flash, try something like Slow Sync photography - read the how-to here.)

Share a link or a photograph in the comments below, or consider joining the BYP 52 Weeks Google+ Community (or the new 52 Weeks 2015) to share your weekly photograph and see what others are capturing.

Boost Your Photography: Learn Your DSLR is available from Amazon. Get the most out of your camera with practical advice about the technical and creative aspects of DSLR photography that will have you taking beautiful pictures right away.
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