Lighting is a huge element in photography, and I find it intriguing how it can change the whole mood of the image.
Whether you’re used to natural light of reconstructed studio light – in this article, I will share some flash photography ideas that you see being used and are easy to recreate.
Almost everyone who starts out photographing does so relying upon ambient light. Ambient light is the light that is present naturally when you are taking your photo.
As you develop your skill in the field and start to create a body of work, you also start to look for ways to have more control over your images and the first step is learning about artificial lighting. This is not necessary, and many photo artists specifically work with natural light during their professional career.
The first thing I consider when building a mood board for a photo shoot is the what kind of light will be used.
If I already know that the photoshoot will take place in the evening, I make sure to have my flash to fill in the absence of ambient light. To clarify, I only refer to portable flash in this article.
There are multiple ways of using the flash in the studio because of the space and multitude of lights available. The difference in soft and harsh light is basically changes in visible shadows you will have in your image.
1. Combination of Flash and Outdoor Light
When balancing flash and natural light, you can swing it in either direction – toward the flash bringing a dramatic look or toward the natural light for a subtly lighted feel.
Both have their uses and can be brought to enhance specific characteristics in your images.
Notice that the flash should not only be used to bring light into the picture to fill the ambient light, but you can use it to play with the light and the results it gives.
The combination of natural light source and a flash provides a multidimensional feel to the image.
This is similar to a studio setting, where you would use a separate light for the background.
2. Bounce Flash
This is usually popular in real estate photography or documenting specific places, where you utilize the light bouncing from the walls to properly light a subject or a space without visible shadows.
Photographing groups of people in different venues requires a larger source of light and bouncing your light from the wall or a ceiling will provide that.
When bouncing the flash you will immediately improve the quality of the light:
- Increase the relative size of the light source (softer light)
- Change the direction of the light, which in turn changes the direction of the shadows
Make sure you consider the direction of the flash and the color of the surface you bounce it from; white walls being the best for the most natural light.
Instead of using only the surrounding walls, you can use a foamboard or a reflector.
3. Flash With a Diffuser
To soften a harsh flash light, you might want to use a diffuser – this can be anything from a light white fabric to a softbox or even a shoot-through umbrella.*
The easiest way is to hang a white fabric to hang from two stands and to shoot the flash through the fabric. The light will be spread out evenly on the subject and the background.
For this, you would have to be able to place the flash separately from your camera, and you would have to have a radio transmitter.
There are many tutorials on youtube for a DIY flash softbox. The larger the diffuser is, the more broadly the light will fall. There is numerous light-modifying equipment that is made for shoe-mount flash and can be used with stands, umbrellas, and so forth.
4. Bounce Flash with an Umbrella
One way of diffusing the light is using umbrellas. There are two kinds of umbrellas; ones you can diffuse the light through and ones you can bounce the light from.
By using an umbrella to bounce your flash, you control the area the light falls onto. This bounce umbrella, parabolic in shape, keeps the light closer to the same distance from the subject. The light can be directed more narrowly onto your subject.
The quality of this light will be somewhat soft; it will still have some smooth shadows. While it is less diffused than the shoot-through umbrella, the bounce creates a more even light with the added wrap for cutting contrast.
5. Direct flash
This is the most common way of using a flash; you’ve seen images like this in music venues and festivals but also in quick portraits.
This is an effortless way to portray exactly what you see. The idea is to have strong shadows fall onto the background.
On the other hand the light is very invasive and can leave your subject drained. This harsh light will expose everything you will photograph – all the imperfections people have and which they are not always comfortable with.
However, it’s also incredibly popular with mainstream fashion photographers and editors. Direct flash is often used to illustrate a harsh mid-day sunlight when positioned at 11 o’clock from the objects.
To overcome different obstacles regarding your light sources, you need to be more familiar with the equipment and technical elements such as shutter speed, aperture, and ISO.
As you progress, you’ll probably want to start getting your flash off the camera and working with modifiers like umbrellas and softboxes. You can start by learning how the ambient light flows in your images and then slowly adding flash lighting to them to understand more how to read the light.
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