My Adventures In Photography

A while back I started a photography column for my hometown's local newspaper — you'll find all of my columns from those pages here as well as new ones that I write.

To see all of my blog posts to date, click here.

Flash photography — the right way

  DON’T OVERCOMPLICATE IT:  Utilizing flash photography is less about getting lost in menu options, and more about how much light you want in a scene and where to put it. ETTL mode on a flash can be more than enough to light a scene so long as you point your flash in the right direction. Pro-tip: the right direction isn’t in the subject’s eyes.

DON’T OVERCOMPLICATE IT: Utilizing flash photography is less about getting lost in menu options, and more about how much light you want in a scene and where to put it. ETTL mode on a flash can be more than enough to light a scene so long as you point your flash in the right direction. Pro-tip: the right direction isn’t in the subject’s eyes.

Well, I suppose it's about time I mentioned flash photography in one of these posts.

I will admit that it's an area that I haven't had as much practice in, however, I do use flash for certain occasions.

Now, my lack of mentioning flash in my posts doesn’t mean I hate flash photography — quite the opposite, actually — I think it's an art in of itself. I simply prefer to create images with existing light. I feel like existing light better represents the memories of an event or moment in time. The classic example? A wedding.

I'm asked every now and then to shoot weddings and, while I've had a lot of practice shooting in most situations, I've never had quite a challenge as wedding photography. When two people come together to join their lives, the event draws a crowd and a flurry of different lighting situations for a photographer to adapt to. Some of these situations, require flash photography.

One very important tip I give to many people first learning how to use a flash (in any situation) is to never point the light directly at the subject when the flash is mounted on the camera. Please. Please, don't. No one likes red eyes and harsh light on their subject. If you need a shot in a pinch and don't want it to look very good, sure — I guess, but for the most part ... just don't.

Also, if your Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) camera has a pop up flash, try not to use it unless you're prepared for that harsh light. It can destroy moments and memories, but, as I said, in a pinch it can be used selectively.

Anywho, back to the point at hand: I'll save my advice on shooting entire wedding days for another post. For this one, I'd like to focus on the end of the wedding day.

No, not the VERY end. Ahem.

The reception. Dancing, food and all sorts of fun are had after the official wedding ceremony (generally speaking). However, it's at this time of day that the sun has lowered and, in most situations, people gather indoors in a dimly lit area to take part in this last segment of celebration.

This is usually about the time I break out my flash. I purchased a Canon Speedlite 600EX-RT flash a number of years ago for situations just like this.

Now, there are many ways to set up a flash to get good shots at a wedding. A multi-flash set up is the most preferred so there are a number of lights flooding the area to create a perfect chance for pristine image quality without blur or focus shift.

I don't really have that convenience because I only own one flash currently.

So, what does one do? Well, I just use the one flash. It's not ideal in that particular venue, but it gets the job done.

As aforementioned, I VERY rarely point my flash directly at the subject I want to photograph. So, where do I point it? Well, the trick is to use your flash to create natural light, and in a room full of people, the most natural way to add light to a scene is by adding more light to the original light source — the ceiling.

It's called bounce flash. You point your flash up toward the ceiling and the light will strike the ceiling and descend down upon your subject(s), creating a natural looking light that doesn't woefully blind your subject afterward. For portrait photography, you also can bounce that same light off of a nearby wall for a different look.

So, how do we go about making sure we have the right amount of light?

Thankfully, despite all the bells, buttons and gizmos that come with the flash I purchased, I can mostly rely on ETTL flash photography to get me through the night.

ETTL means Electronically Through The Lens: AKA ... auto mode. Yes, ladies and 'gents ... the one guy who's always preaching about using manual and semi-manual modes on a camera is advocating the use of auto mode on a flash.

Why? Well, it works.

For the most part, you can attach your fully powered flash (do yourself a favor and stock up on double A's so you don't lose power — It goes quickly) to your camera and let the flash do all the work.

Now, that's not to say you shouldn't learn how to shoot your flash manually. There are different settings for the amount of power that is used in a single firing or multiple firings of the flash, and all of those things should be taken into consideration if needed in an environment. Now, that consideration applies mostly if the environment is a stable one and you have time to fiddle a bit. 

I mostly stick to ETTL because I barely have time to think during a reception, let alone to sit down and eat some dinner after a long day.

I'm still learning my flash too. I prefer to stick to what I know. Occasionally, during a reception I'll delve into the menu to increase the light meter's sensitivity to light to get a more powerful light when I'm dealing with a higher ceiling. Otherwise, I just let the flash do its thing.

I'll be sure to include other tips for flash photography as they become applicable in future posts. For now, keep shooting and thanks for reading!