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Photography is mainly concerned with light – how we manipulate and capture it in the image. Using flash in photography creates an artificial light source to help illuminate the scene, giving you more control of the light in the frame and a more considered final product.

It goes without saying that flash photography is important when it’s dark indoors or at night when there’s no natural light; however this isn’t the only time flash can be used. A photographer can use it to light shadows, bring the viewer’s eye to specific parts of the image or just to build upon the natural light in the scene.

The creative possibilities with flash are endless. So here are four helpful tips to remember when shooting with flash. 

“If you’re shooting a subject in nature that is well backlit, flash can help balance out the image.

1. All flash photos are double exposures

This is important to remember when shooting with flash. One exposure is from the flash and one from the ambient light in the frame. When you make adjustments to aperture it will affect both of these exposures. This is important to consider when setting up the shot.

It’s also helpful to remember that if you’re shooting a subject in nature that is well backlit, flash can help balance out the image. The flash will brighten the subject from the front and fix any unwanted shadowing. 

“Place your subject further away to help create a more natural light source with your flash.”

2. Flash is directional, manipulate that

When using an on-camera flash, it’s easy to modify your flash intensity by bouncing the light produced off something else. Moving the flash so it’s not pointing straight onto your subject softens the light and can create a huge variety of moods and results in your image. 

Flash also falls off the further your subject is from the camera. This is important to remember and manipulate when shooting. You can place your subject further away to help create a more natural light source with your flash to let the light hit the whole scene rather than just your subject. Incorporating off-camera flash units also helps if you want your subject far away from the camera but still lit well.

“Wrapping your hot-shoe flash with a cloth softens the light before it reaches your subject.”

3. Diffuse or not diffuse

Using diffusers like a lightbox, lightsphere or wrapping your hot-shoe flash with a cloth softens the light before it reaches your subject. The shadows will look less harsh and the light will be more natural. 

Not using a diffuser and allowing just the bare head to flash creates an intense, unrealistic lighting result. This can be used stylistically to create intensity in the mood of the scene. Likewise, moving your subject into the foreground of the scene and using an intense undiffused flash can help create a look as though the model is out of the photograph; floating above the image. As your knowledge continues to grow you will be able to take your creative ideas and get the best results by using the correct gear. 

“An off-camera flash can help establish depth in the photograph and give your subject a more rounded light scope.”

4. On-camera versus off-camera flash

This is an age old question. While having an on-camera flash is important and gives a nice ‘fill’ light source to the image, off-camera flash adds another dimension. It can help establish depth in the photograph and give your subject a more rounded light scope. This is because of the level of adjustment you can make with off-camera flash sources – both moving them around the room and through sophisticated lamp outlets that allow individual power control for each flash source.

Both lighting styles have their place and ultimately, you, the photographer must choose what style you need to achieve your intended result.

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James Caswell

James Caswell is a Brisbane-based photographer and creative director. Caswell’s portfolio showcases his own unique, dynamic portraits and quick snapshot live imagery in fashion and music. He has had features in LNWY.co, CONTROL zine, and Gum Magazine.