Flash 101 | Utah Photography Education

This blog post is dedicated to all my photographers out there who are terrified by flash! I know I sure was when I was first starting out! But once I invested my time into research, classes and lots of experimenting, I’ve found flash is actually pretty easy and its not nearly as intimidating as I once thought! I used to say I didn't like the look of flash. Thats why I didn't learn it. But in reality it was just that I didn't know how to use flash to achieve the look I wanted. I can’t teach you the exact equipment or settings you will need to use, that is all very specific to what you are trying to achieve, but hopefully you can learn enough to start experimenting and make those decisions for yourself!

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The Equipment

There are literally thousands of different options of flash equipment combinations out there! Im not here to teach you everything there is to know! But if you are a photographer wanting to gain a better understanding of flash and start using it to enhance your portfolio, create better light when no good light is available to you, ect, then read on my friend!

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The flashes

I have two different flashes - the Nikon speedlight sb 700 and a Neewer speedlite 750 ii. I bought my Nikon Speedlight YEARS ago when I really didn't know anything about flash. I bought it because the guy at the store said it was a good flash. And it is. But it costs around $350 and my Neewer Speedlite cost around $50. Yes, the nikon speed light has a lot more functions and modes and options, but for what I use these flashes for, I actually like the Neewer better! I find the controls to be more user friendly and easier to understand. If you know that you really want to get into flash photography, then maybe invest in the more expensive flashes with more options and commit to learning how to use all the functions and extra features, but for photographers that are just getting into flash photography and only plan to use it to help with low light wedding receptions, dimly lit bridal rooms, sparkler exits, ect, I would go with a simpler flash, such as the Neewer listed above. I felt comfortable using my neewer within 20 minutes of opening the box, but it took me years (and a few classes) to feel like I could control my Nikon speed light  and honestly I still don't know what all of the functions are for!

Another consideration into which flash to purchase would be how many flashes you have and what you intend to use them for. For people who plan on using a multiple flash set up, make sure you buy the same brand! I have two different flashes with different capabilities by different brands. I know how to use them together just fine but its a learning curve, where as, if I had purchased two of the neewer flashes, I probably would have picked OCF a lot easier. Now I'm having to learn two systems instead of one. And if I had to do it all over again, I probably would have purchased a flash that has build in triggers and receivers- With this type of flash, you can adjust 1 or both flashes from the flash you have on you. When I need to adjust a flash, I have to walk across the room to adjust it manually (boohoo, I know, but I'm all about efficiency!)

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Trigger &

Receiver

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Here the flash is connected to the receiver and the receiver is connected to the foot stand.

Triggers and receivers -

Triggers and receivers are what allow you to take the flash off your camera and still have the flash fire when you take a photo. The trigger goes on your cameras hot shoe and transmit a signal to the receiver that is placed on your flash and tells it to fire when you take a photo.

I use the brand Altura and they have been easy to learn, easy to use and reliable. Radio Popper and Pocket Wizard triggers are also popular brands, and most of their sets have the added bonus that you can control your flash power remotely from your camera instead of having to walk over to your flash to change the settings. My Altura set doesn't have this capability and I wish it did! But I love that they are affordable and I have purchased a few extra sets so that I can give a trigger to my second shooter and they can trigger the same flash set up I'm using!

Stands - Most stands are created pretty equally, but here are the things you should look for when purchasing. Make sure its light weight so that you don’t die carrying all that weight around - we all know how heavy and tiring weddings days can be because of all the equipment we lug around. Trust me, go light weight for your stand. Buy one that can extend nice and tall so that you have options, and buy one that extends wide enough to create a sturdy base so it won’t fall over on anyone. Side note about this - it can be a little tricky to find a place for your flash to go where it doesn’t feel like its in the way or you aren’t afraid someone will trip over the wide base. I always try to place mine next to a wall, or have an assistant stay close if I have to have it in the middle of the room.

Diffusers and umbrellas-

I find umbrellas to be big and bulky, so I prefer to use an on camera diffuser. There are a million different options out there, including Gary Fong diffusers, on flash soft boxes, ect. Most flashes will come with a small plastic diffuser that will pop onto the flash. What you use will end up being personal preference and i’ve seen beautiful images produced with all sorts of difference diffusers. I use a mag grip and a mag sphere, both pieces of equipment come from a company called MagMod. The grip is an elastic piece that wraps around the top of a flash and has two magnets that allow different pieces of equipment to attach. The sphere (or any other magmod product) will magnetize to the grip and is the actual diffuser. Diffusers do exactly what it sounds like they would do, they diffuse the flash. This makes for a softer, bigger light. Example photos shown below with same flash and camera settings, the only difference is the diffuser.

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Flash with

no diffuser

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Flash with mag sphere diffuser

Batteries -

This one seems pretty obvious, but there are a few important things you need to know about batteries! Some flashes come with a battery pack, but most will need AA batteries. You will need to make the decision if you want to invest in more expensive rechargeable batteries, or if you want to use disposable batteries that are not as expensive, but obviously you will have to keep buying them. Another bonus of rechargeable batteries is that if you purchase a good quality brand, they will hold their charge longer.

Your batteries will need to “recycle” power. This means that your batteries might not keep up with every photo you take if you are taking lots of photos in quick succession or if you batteries are low on power, and your flash might not fire every time you take a photo. The higher your flash power, and the more drained your batteries are, the longer it will take to recycle power, and the more often it will need to recycle. As a wedding photographer, I always make sure I have fresh batteries for quick moving, important parts of the day, like the flower toss, cake cutting and sparkler exit, so that I have the best chance of my flash firing with every single photo. We will talk about more options on saving battery power down below!

Build in Diffuser and Bounce Card - Most flashes will come with a build in bounce card. It is designed to bounce your light forward. Look below to see the way that your card disperses the light.

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Flash with bounce card

The built in diffuser isn’t my favorite. You can definitely see the difference in the above and below photo, so we know that the built in diffuser does do its job, but the bigger your diffuser, the softer your light, so most people choose to purchase a bigger better diffuser.

Flash with bounce card and built in diffuser

High ISO - Most professional grade cameras do a fantastic job of keeping noise or grain to a minimum, even with a high ISO. I recommend using a high ISO and a low flash power for a couple reasons. The high ISO will allow ambient light to be seen in your photos so that your flash only has to light up the subject instead of needing to be powerful enough to light up your whole scene. Another, important reason is that it allows you to leave your flash power low enough that the recycle time of your flash batteries shouldn’t interfere with what you are trying to shoot. Recycle time only becomes an issue when you are using up a lot of battery power - for example when you are using a high flash power or when you are firing in rapid succession.

Bouncing your light - Direct light is harsh light. I don’t like the look of it and I didn’t know how to avoid it when using a flash, therefore I just avoided flash all together. Then I learned a very simple and very useful part of flash photography - never flash directly at your subject, bounce your flash off of the ceiling or the wall instead. This makes it so the light has farther to travel and will be softer by the time it reaches your subject. You can also create more directional light using this technique. If you are facing a subject and bounce the light off of the wall to your left for example, the light will come back from the left and produce a more directional lighting effect. In my opinion, directional light is dynamic light.

If you feel like you learned something here, my mission has been accomplished! And if you feel like you just want MORE info, my mission is even MORE accomplished because I want you to not be intimidated by flash anymore! I will be coming out with a more detailed guide on how to pick the settings that will work best for your desired results and going more into depth about off camera flash! Keep an eye out for that guide, ill only be selling a limited amount and they will go fast! Flash is my most requested educational topic!