Flash Photography Basics take photos from “Blah” to “Ahh!”

When you take a picture with your external flash on top of your camera directed right at your subject, you get a flat, straight on blast of light.

The cure?

Get your flash off your camera!

Flash Photography Basics

Flash Photography 101

Flash Photography Basics
Photo Credit: Rachael Olson

Start simple first:

  • First, you simply need a sync cord to connect your flash to your camera.
  • Then, you can hold the flash off to the side to give you flattering, directional light.
  • Set your flash on manual and adjust the power of the flash until you get the effect you want.
  • Flash and check, flash and check… (This is where a nice LCD screen is a plus.)

Flash Photography 201

Making it a little more complicated – but oh so fun – you can try one of these:

Flash Photography Basics
Photo Credit: Zach Olson
  • Have an assistant hold the flash where you want.
  • Use clamps to stick your flash where you want it.
  • Mount your flash on a stand with a hot shoe.

If this is a technique you want to use a lot, you make want to go wireless.

  • Any recent Canon or Nikon SLR can be set up to trigger your off-camera flash without any cords. Look in your user’s guide to see how. There are a few drawbacks to this. First, nothing can block the line between the flash’s sensor and the camera’s sensor.  Also, I’ve experienced very slow recycle times using this method. Last, for some cameras, you trigger the off-camera flash with your pop-up flash. So you have pop-up flash in your picture – yuck. I stick my hand or a piece of paper in front of the pop-up flash if I have to use this method.
  • You can buy a wireless flash trigger system. There are cheap ones from Asia on E-bay (mine broke after a few uses), inexpensive options on Flash Zebra (that I’ve never tried but look interesting), all the way up to more reliable – and costly – systems such as Elinchrom Skyport or Pocket Wizards. These systems involve putting a trigger on your camera and connecting a receiver to your flash. Some advantages are no connecting cords and being able to have a long distance between your camera and your flash.

Flash Photography 301

Making it even more complicated – and even more fun – you can turn your flash into a mini-studio light adding umbrellas, softboxes and diffusers.  Then you get studio-quality photography on-the-go without lugging around heavy equipment.

Flash Photography Basics
Photo Credit: Rachael Olson

If you want to go all out, here is a break down of what you want to get (my apologies to your wallet):

  • A Flash that can be adjusted manually
  • Light stand
  • Umbrella adapter
  • Hot shoe mount (or you can buy an umbrella adapter that already has one)
  • Wireless flash trigger system
  • Note: If you have a Canon camera and purchase the Elinchrom Skyport, you will need this hot shoe and cord to make it work.
  • Umbrella (Try one that you can bounce or shoot-through – they’re cool).
  • If you want to spend even more dough, or if you prefer it over an umbrella, get a soft-box.

Now you know how to take your flash pictures from “blah” to “ahh!”

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