At some point in our photography journey, we’re faced with a decision about whether or not to use flash. Some of us embrace the challenge and focus on what flash photography offers, including more control over the quality, quantity, and direction of light, effectively giving us more control over how our images will look. A good number of people, however, avoid taking up flash altogether. The reasons for doing so vary, with many citing flash photography as too expensive, difficult to learn, unnatural looking, and so on. In truth, these “reasons” are simply misconceptions that we can address and debunk with relative ease. Below, we’ll examine 5 common misconceptions and show how flash photography is more worthwhile and accessible than many photographers think.
1. Only Night Shoots Require Flash
If you didn’t know better, you might think that photographers only need to use flash at night, or in very dim light. Sure, flash can provide additional light when the available light is scarce, but we can get plenty of use out of flashes during the day. In addition to pumping more light into a scene, flash also allows us to control the quality and direction of light we’re capturing. This holds true even when shooting in the middle of a bright, sunny day.
Shooting under the midday sun has its place, but the light quality is often described as harsh. Moreover, the extreme top-down light direction can create unflattering shadows. Without flash, our best bet would be to find open shade, but this limits our options on location. We can quickly and easily overcome these limitations by introducing flash.
Photo by SLR Lounge | Edited with Visual Flow Presets
One quick tip for getting great results while using flash in midday sun is to simply face our subjects away from the sun. This will add a nice rim light to our backlit subjects and keep them squint-free. We can then position a softbox, like the Magbox Pro 42 Octa, to the front side of our subject (about a 45-degree angle between the camera and subject) and slightly higher than our subject’s head. You can also use modifiers like the MagGrid 2 or MagSnoot 2 to further isolate the light falling on your subject, which works especially well for more dramatic portraits.
2. Hard to Learn
Despite what you may have heard, flash photography does not have to be complicated or difficult to learn. When we first jump into using flash, we can quickly get overwhelmed by the long list of new terms and concepts to learn: E-TTL vs. TTL vs. Manual Mode, Flash Power, Ambient vs. Flash Exposure, Sync Speed, Inverse Square Law, and so on. If you’ve never used flash gear, you won’t know what to expect there either, likely assuming it’s difficult to master. As such, it’s easy to see why this flash photography misconception persists. Luckily, with the right resources and tools, each of these points can be broken down and learned without too much hassle.
Photo by SLR Lounge
Online workshops like SLR Lounge’s Flash Photography Training System can help you build a strong foundation as you work toward mastering flash techniques. You can start with an on-camera flash, learning basic concepts like those mentioned above, and then move on to more advanced off-camera flash and creative lighting techniques. In regards to gear, flash photography tools are actually easier to use today than ever before. Modern wireless flash units and professionally designed modifiers like the MagGrip 2 and MagShoe 2 make it easy to quickly set up and modify light to bring your vision to life. The education and tools you need won’t break the bank, which brings us to our next point.
3. Gear Is Too Expensive
The misconception that flash photography gear is too expensive is dated at best. What is affordable to one photographer may not be to another, but you can find gear options to fit a wide range of budgets. If budget is keeping you out of the flash game, start with a single flash from one of the more affordable brands like Yongnuo or Godox and pick up some basic modifiers like an umbrella, a 5-in-1 reflector, and a MagSphere. You’d be amazed at what you can do with simple modifiers and a single flash unit (for either on-camera or off-camera use, if you also pick up a wireless transmitter). When you reach a point that your gear limits what you want to do, consider purchasing additional flashes. After you earn enough income through your photography, you can look into purchasing high-end flash units from makers like Profoto or Elinchrom.
4. Flash Can’t Look Natural
Photos by SLR Lounge
We mentioned it above, but one of the main reasons we use flash is to control our light direction and quality. Because we can control these things, we can absolutely make our flash photography look natural. The images above, for example, were all captured using flash.
Every location will offer some form of ambient light. If the light does not flatter your subjects, or if it’s too dim to get a decent exposure, we can bring in flash. We can even use flash to recreate sunlight if ambient light conditions don’t allow for the golden hour look we might be after. See the video above for more tips on how to do that.
5. Soft Light Is Always Best
Some photographers will say that soft light is always best, but this, too, is a misconception. Simply put, the ”right light” is not the same for everyone. Knowing how to use flash, however, will allow you to get the look you’re after, whatever that may be. In fact, one of the best parts about using flash is the power it gives you to achieve a wide variety of looks. While capturing soft, natural-looking light is certainly an option, you can also use any number of creative lighting techniques to add flare (sometimes literally) to your images and make your portraiture more dynamic than it would otherwise be.
Light qualities (left to right): Soft, Hard, Diffused, and Specular.
In the collage above, you can find examples of soft, hard, diffused, and specular lighting. We can use soft light to enhance existing light while hard light lends itself well to applications like editorial or fashion photography. Diffused light features many of the same qualities as soft light, while specular light is more reflective and works well for fitness or sportswear photos, to name just a few applications.
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I hope you found useful information in this attempt to dispel common misconceptions around flash photography. Learning to use flash will give you more flexibility as a photographer and open up countless shooting opportunities. As you begin to explore flash photography in more detail, you’ll find that the obstacles between you and a successful go at flash photography are not as challenging as you may have been led to believe. Pick up some basic gear, dedicate some time and effort to learning, and step outside of your comfort zone, even if it’s in short bursts. Your portfolio and your clients will thank you.