8 Jan 2008

How to take flash photographs - part 1

Do you use flash only as a last resort when you run out of daylight? If so you are missing out on a most versatile light source. Over the couple of posts I’m going to explain how a flash gun can produce more than just an ‘in-your-face’ blast of light.

Take a look at the photograph of the man with the Venetian mask. Was it taken with directional sidelight from a north-facing window? Maybe it was lit in a studio using a big white brolly or soft box? No, it was taken using just one small portable electronic flash gun attached to the hot shoe on the camera. No tripod, no cables, no sophisticated gear whatsoever. It was the sort of simple set-up you might use almost anywhere.

I show my students this picture when they tell me they hate using flash. They say it ‘kills the atmosphere’. I like to demonstrate how flash is the fastest, cleanest, most portable, convenient, controllable and versatile light source they can use. It has endless creative possibilities, you can carry it about in your pocket, and, when you know how to handle it properly, it can create beautiful high quality directional light.

Sure, it’s bound to have power limitations – you’re not going to light the interior of the Albert Hall or the Hollywood Bowl with a portable flash gun mounted on your camera – but once you know where those limitations are, it becomes an invaluable tool.

Picture 1 shows the result of using straight, head-on flash with the set-up shown in picture 2. Notice the hard, unpleasant shadows beneath the model’s chin. It looks almost as though her head is separate from her neck.

To point a direct and undiffused flash at your subject is a pretty rotten thing to do. Straight flash has its place in newspaper, press-style photography, but not in portraiture. It can hurt your model’s eyes and creates sharp, hard, unpleasant and unflattering shadows. Results like this are the most common reason why so many photographers are completely put off using flash.

Next, in Part 2 - I’ll explain exactly how that photograph of the Venetian mask was done… and how to get more from your flash in other situations

1 comment:

altamiranyc said...

Very informative Philip...can't wait to read more as I constantly use the flash on the streets.