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Photography Tip – flash lights & when / how to use them?

So you bought a DSLR, a trusty little lens & a tripod … you must be thinking ‘what next?’.

Well, more than often, people tend to start researching & planning the purchase of a flash light (speedlite / speedlight). Those little devices have the capability to produce a powerful burst of light, and are capable of adding a lot to your images if used correctly.

Unfortunately, many people new to photography buy one of those little beauties, yet end up dropping them off, why? Fear … fear of being unable to control this light. Yet, if you look at it closely, flash guns are pretty simple to use & master; there are a few rules, & points to keep note of.

Ok, so where do we start? Well, let’s discuss the scenarios where you might actually require a flash gun:

1. A Dimly lit room / area. (here, ambient light is not sufficient, hence firing a flash light into the area would give better exposure, this can be achieved by bouncing flash off a surface to create a soft even light, note that flash lights can only be triggered to cover the near vicinity [don’t expect it to light up a mountain or a building!])

2. When your subject is in shade. (here, ambient light is perfect for the area surrounding your subject, however the subject would be underexposed due to being in the shade, flash light can be creatively used as a fill light to lighten up your subject [diffuser would be highly recommended])

3. When you wish to emphasize a specific part of your scene. (here, the scene might be evenly lit, however, you wish to draw the viewer’s attention to a specific part of the scene, hence flash light could be used to achieve that)

4. When you wish to freeze action (flash lights are so fast [they fire at such a short duration], they are capable of freezing movement, hence, they are perfect for action shots)

That said, it is of the utmost importance to understand that flash guns should be rarely used on-camera, in this case, you’d require the help of a trigger (optical / radio). Feel free to research the availability of different triggers and their limitations. The only few occasions where you’d be using flash on-camera would be when you are bouncing it off ceilings / wall indoors or when shooting events.

You should also understand there are many types of diffusers in the market that can help you achieve better light quality with your flash gun, the most commonly used are:

1. Bounce card (acts as a surface to reflect & soften the light emitted from the flash gun & are sold in different sizes, they can be folded & twisted to direct the light)

2. Softbox (acts as a big surface to diffuse and soften the light, note that the flash light has to go through two layers of white cloth on the inside of the softbox creating a very soft light with very soft undefined shadows, they are also perfect for controlling your light, they come in different sizes)

3. Bounce back umbrella (acts as a big reflector that softens the light, yet retains some harshness, difficult to control as light spills everywhere, they come in different sizes)

4. Shoot through umbrella (somewhere between a softbox & a bounce back umbrella, as it retains the softness of the softbox’s light, yet spills light similar to the bounce back umbrella, they come in different sizes)

5. Grid / Barn door (those little accessories ensure your flash light is controlled, as it will only light up the area it is directed to, however, it tends to be harsh light creating harsh shadows, best used as rim light or to light up the background creatively)

6. Beauty dish (mostly used for glamour / beauty / fashion shoots, this accessory softens the light by bouncing internally for a softer look, while also creating a specific light pattern that flatters your subject, they come in different sizes)

You will also reach a stage where you need to effectively use flash light in manual mode, as TTL (through the lens metering) would not be conveniently available at most times, also not to forget that it is not always accurate. So learn the flash light’s different power outputs and when to use each of them.

Finally, I wish to highlight something which is commonly mistaken in flash light / strobe photography … as opposed to what most people think, flash lights should not be used at night (unless they are controlled and managed effectively). Firing a flash light into a pitch black scene would only create a poor image with poor lighting results, so ensure you know how to effectively use flash lights before attempting to use flash in very dark environments.

This might not be the most detailed guide, however, feel free to use it as a start up guide, and do further researches on any specific points of interest.

As usual, I hope this has been helpful … feel free to comment on this post, or correct me in case I missed anything or gave out incorrect info. Cheers!

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