Photography is all about using and shaping light. In fact, the word ‘photography’ actually stems from painting with light. Using flashes, commonly known as speed lights helps us add light, often dramatically improving our photos and are great fun to experiment with.
Below, I’d like to outline five different ways that a speed light(s) can help improve your photography.
Generally as a rule of thumb as light is being created by a speed light in all of these scenarious, I would advise keeping your ISO as low as possible.
Unlike the small pop up flash on many cameras, a speed light has many advantages. It is more powerful, versatile and can be rotated and tilted. This means you can bounce and direct light off surfaces whether a side-wall or a surface above or behind you. Swiveling the speed light to bounce light off surfaces helps diffuse light and create more flattering portraits; most speed lights also have a built in fill card to help you bounce light. However, be careful what type of wall you choose to bounce the light. If you choose one that is too dark, it will suck up a lot of light meaning you’ll have to use a higher power to achieve the desired result draining valuable battery. You also need to bear in mind the colour of the surface you are bouncing the speed light off. Of course, flash has it’s own colour but, brightly coloured walls will produce a colour cast on your models that you should be wary of. Nevertheless, whatever surface you choose to bounce your speed light off will create a different, dynamic and exciting effect. Don’t be afraid to experiment and most importantly, be creative.
Bettering shots in low light situations
Even with the vast improvement in camera sensor technology and the ability to now increase ISO levels with very little noise creation, there are still times where flash is required whether out of necessity or for creativity. This could be if you’re at a dimly lit event, in a dark room or at a gig. In my career, a common occurrence I often use is to rig flash strobes to the ceilings of dark sporting arenas such as basketball and hockey stadiums. I then remotely trigger these from my camera. This allows me to get take advantage of more light and thus use faster shutter speeds to get the action shots I require. Speed lights also helps greatly when I’m on location, am travelling light and end up in a dimly lit spot.
Capturing High Speed Action Using Flash
Flashes produce rapid and instantaneous bursts of light that can last approximately 1/15,000 or faster. This provides us with ample creative opportunities to capture moving subjects with clarity and sharpness in ways that the human eye can’t see; I am sure many of you are familiar with the shots of bullets flying through exploding apples captured at the precise moment it pierces the fruit and shatters it into hundreds of pieces. However, you don’t necessarily need such an intricate set up. I would encourage you to experiment with different flash settings, positions, colours and backgrounds; you will be amazed at the results you can achieve.
Getting creative by moving the flash off camera
Further, a speed light can be used off your camera, triggered remotely wirelessly or via infrared. Alternatively, a number of speed lights can all be used at the same time in different positions providing endless creative lighting solutions. Blasting light directly at our subject often looks unnatural. Therefore, by getting the speed light off camera (above, below, to the side), you can create more flattering images and also become more creative with your lighting solutions. For example, you can start to use more than one speed light in unison placed behind a model to produce a backlit effect. Moving flashes off camera ultimately leads to you adding a whole new skill to your photographic arsenal and opens up endless possibilities of creativity in your image making. I always like to refer people to strobist.com as a good resource for how to use off camera speed lights.
Using Flash In Bright Conditions
When shooting portraiture you may frequently encounter a situation where the bright, harsh sun is behind your subject rendering them in the shade. You therefore need to illuminate the person otherwise they will be dark, flat and underexposed; flash is the perfect answer. Often this requires manually placing the speed light at close to full power to compensate and balance for the strength of the light being emitted by the sun. Depending on the look you wish to create (harder, edgier light or a softer more diffused one) you can opt to shoot with nothing covering the speed light or use a modifier such as a little softbox to go over your speed light.