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Busting 3 Common Myths About Using Flash

Piet Van den Eynde is a master of lighting! In this guest article, he's will show you three common misconceptions or myths about using flash.

Perhaps you've avoided using flash because you've heard it's really expensive, or really hard. Or maybe you just crank up your ISO to combat low light situations.

Here are some opposing thoughts to those rationales that may get you thinking about using flash in a new way.

1) My camera does ISO 25,600. I don’t need flash!

Busting 3 Common Myths About Using Flash
The beauty of having a flash with you is that you can control the quantity, quality, and direction of your light and therefore the look of your picture. In this image, I placed the flash out of sight behind the bmx rider and had him slowly ride towards it. A bit of smoke from my portable Scotty II smoke machine gives some extra atmosphere.

I sometimes hear statements like, “My camera does ISO (insert your own ludicrous number here) so I don't need flash” or “I only work in very sunny conditions where there is a lot of light, so I don't need flash”.

Looking at flash this way is mistaking a core part of its functionality.

While it is true that you can use a flash to increase the quantity of light in a situation where there isn't enough, 90% of the time I will use a flash to increase the quality of my light, even if there is plenty of available light.

For example, I travel a lot in India and from early morning until late in the evening, there is no lack of sun and therefore no lack of light. However, unless you work in the open shade, the quality of the available light will often be very harsh.

Likewise, the direction of that light, especially at noon when the sun is up high in the sky, may be undesirable and cause unflattering shadows on the face.

Therefore, I use flash all of the time when photographing in India.

I use it to overpower the less elegant available light and supplement it with soft, directional light of my choice. In fact, I will often pose my subjects with their back against the sun so that the sunlight doesn't cause them to squint their eyes but on the contrary gives me a nice and free rim light.

Busting 3 Common Myths About Using Flash
In this portrait of a sadhu in Varanasi, India, I worked against the sun. I put up a big softbox (but I just as easily have done this with a cheap $25 umbrella, I just use the softbox because it is a little sturdier) and filled in the shadows. The result is a dramatically lit portrait which I couldn't have made without flash.
Busting 3 Common Myths About Using Flash
Behind the scenes shot of the image above.
Busting 3 Common Myths About Using Flash
Sometimes, the available light can be too soft for what you want your picture to say. On the cloudy day where I photographed this World War II memorial, the available light was simply too soft and it didn't do the drama of the scene much justice.
Busting 3 Common Myths About Using Flash
So, I set up a flash on a tripod, added a grid to it to limit the beam of the light and created my own hard, directional and much more suitable light in a couple of seconds.
Busting 3 Common Myths About Using Flash
Final image with the flash added. Notice how much more drama and texture have been created here?

2) Using flash is expensive

Just like anything in photography, off-camera flash can be expensive: for the price of some triggers alone, you can almost by an entry-level DSLR. However, it needn't be.

In fact, if you already have a flash and your camera features a built-in flash, chances are that you can use that built-in flash to trigger the other flash remotely without spending a dime on extra gear.

It's called optical triggering and it uses infrared signals to trigger the remote flash.

Although it's not as reliable as radio triggering, it's a great way to get into the habit of things. I used optical triggering for an entire year when I was cycling through Southeast Asia in 2010 and I was surprised at how well it actually functioned.

In my new e-Book Light It Up!, I explain the process for a typical Canon and Nikon camera. For other cameras, it's comparable.

Busting 3 Common Myths About Using Flash
This image was photographed with a Nikon SB900 that I triggered using the built-in flash of my Nikon camera. No extra gear was needed other than what I already had available, except for a cheap $25 flash umbrella.
Busting 3 Common Myths About Using Flash
Thanks to this modifier, which helps to create nice and soft light, this image was chosen as the cover for a travel photography special of a Belgian photo magazine.

Even if you want the more reliable radio triggers and flashes, prices have come down so much in recent years that they have become affordable.

A couple of years ago, a radio trigger and receiver would set you back almost $400. Now, the same amount buys you a TTL and high-speed sync compatible radio trigger and a third-party flash, like the Godox V860II while still leaving you some change to buy an umbrella or a cheap softbox.

Save Your Money

When you set out to buy off-camera flash gear, don't make the mistake of spending your last dime on your flash. In fact, the quality of light coming from a $600 brand flash or a $100 cheap Chinese-made flash will be very similar if not identical. They are both small light sources relative to most subjects and therefore they will produce hard light.

I'd rather have a $200 flash and $200 worth of softboxes or umbrellas than a $600 bare flash.

Another interesting development is in powerful battery-powered studio flashes.

A couple of years ago they cost a fortune but nowadays, they have become affordable to the point that a 600 Ws battery-powered studio flash, like the Godox AD600BM (which I use and which packs about the power of eight regular hot shoe flashes) costs about the same as a top-end single speedlight-style flash (about $500-600 USD) of the big camera brands.

3) Using flash is too complicated

I agree, using flash used to be complicated.

Back in the analog days, where a week could pass between pressing the shutter and seeing the results on a contact sheet, it could be hard to recollect and correct what you had done wrong if the results weren't up to your expectations.

However now, with the digital age, we are spoiled. We see the results of our flash endeavors milliseconds after having pushed the button. So it's easy to adjust settings, especially with the newer triggers where you don't even have to walk up to the flash to change the power.

Busting 3 Common Myths About Using Flash

In Light It Up! I present you with a failsafe 10-step approach on how to successfully work with off-camera flash, even with multiple lights. At its core, it's even simpler than that.

A picture lit by flash actually contains two light sources that occur at the same time: the available light, which will generally light both the background and your subject and the light of the flash, which will normally only light the subject as the flash isn't powerful enough to also light the background (unless it's close to the subject).

Normally, you will set your background exposure first without turning on your flash (you might want to take a test shot for that). When I have a subject outdoors, I’ll aim to keep detail in the sky. Generally, your subject will be underexposed but that's not a problem, as you can light him or her with flash.

Since you can control both light sources individually, you have a choice of how the actual picture will look.

Busting 3 Common Myths About Using Flash
If you can work with one flash, it’s a small step to adding other flashes to your shot. This image was lit with three flashes: a combination of two big battery powered strobes and a smaller speedlight in the back.
Busting 3 Common Myths About Using Flash
Light It Up! contains lots of lighting diagrams and behind-the-scenes shots.

In other words, you have a choice between a subtle fill flash or a more dramatic look where you heavily underexpose the background and use a lot of flash to light your subject.

It's like taking a bath really: you have the cold water tap and the hot water tap and you decide on the ultimate mix of both. Especially with mirrorless cameras, setting up the background exposure is a piece of cake as you can already see it in the electronic viewfinder without having to take a single shot.

Mirrorless cameras make off-camera flash even easier: you can preview your ambient exposure in the viewfinder without taking a single shot and you can review the image you just made in that same viewfinder without having to chimp.

Busting 3 Common Myths About Using Flash
FUJIFILM X-Pro2 | XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR @ 23.4 mm | 1/30 sec. @ f/5.6 | ISO 1.000

Conclusion

I hope this has given you a few things to think about in regards to using flash. Give it a go and post any questions you have in the comments below.

If you want more reading on the topic of using flash, consider picking up Light it Up! for only $24.95 before April 8th (2018) and get 3 bonus videos and a set of 5 Lightroom presets for free with your purchase.

Cheers,

© Frederik Herregods

Piet (pronounced as “Pete”) Van den Eynde is a Belgian freelance photographer, trainer, and author.

In 2009, he threw his camera, a flash and umbrella in his bicycle panniers and cycled for one year through Turkey, Iran, India, and Indonesia. He loves to travel, photography, and off-camera flash so his photographic work is often a combination of those three.

Piet is also a Fujifilm X Photographer and a Fujifilm Ambassador for Fujifilm Belgium. On April 1st, 2018, Piet released the updated and expanded second edition of his 15th eBook, Light It Up!

You can see more of his work on his website, or connect with him on Facebook or Twitter.


Digital Photo Mentor is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.

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