Thursday, August 9, 2012

Flash...From Foe to Friend

"Before Flash..."

Can I be honest? I'm a natural light dweller. I have used the virtues of available natural light to hide from having to learn flash photography. That's right, I admit it. I have had a healthy dose of flash aversion since day one, and with good reason. It always seems super bright, blinds everyone within an eight block radius, and can add the most warped shadows to a scene, taking it from well lit to horror show, in one pop of the flash. Who in their right minds wants to look like their photography is one giant photo essay on deformed shadow puppets? 

Terms like sync speed, TTL, flash exposure, dragging the shutter, and radio slaves sent me scurrying for the safe harbour of a flash-less existence where I understood proper english and simple exposures for natural light. I even tried to psych myself up into barging fearlessly into the flash experience by publicly stating I'd do only flash each week on the blog, which was a huge mistake because the pressure was too much and I chickened out once again.

Well, last weekend I was at a women's conference in Columbus Ohio, and one speaker taught about how to embrace the unknown in a practical way and I knew I could apply her teaching to my fear of flash once I got home. It requires a dose of reality. I only THINK flash is scary and difficult... but what I BELIEVE about flash photography is that when done well, it opens up new opportunities for you and your subjects/clients. Next, ACTION needs to follow your BELIEF, which trumps your unrealistic THOUGHTS. My action? I need to slowly develop a list of ways I can use my flash that best suits my style, and gradually learn how to create those photos with the settings my flash affords me. I need to play with it. When I looked at it this way, flash seemed doable.

So today I'm posting my first real experiment with on camera flash as fill light in low light situations. After some reading, this first approach seemed like the best way to inch into making the big scary foe my friend instead. In low light, my flash can become my ally. Now that's something I can embrace! And I'm reviewing my settings and my choices, and applying them to new sessions, with great success.

At the top of the page is the before image, my subject outside in the evening's last light on a semi cloudy day. Things just look flat, and her face has some dark shadows around her hairline and neck, and no catch lights in her eyes whatsoever. Even with my exposure carefully tweaked after metering, and bumping my ISO way up to 800 after the initial shot so as to keep a decent shutter speed in the darkening scene, things just look bland and shadowy.

But the image below? If you click on it, you can see shadow is gone on her features, she has catch lights in her eyes adding life, and shine to her hair and lips. Nothings over the top, and processing required very little work afterward with only some slight colour saturation, heightening of the warm tones, and some sharpening required. My flash setting was TTL (Through-the-lens metering... meaning your camera does the metering work and relays that info to your flash which will supply the light it assumes it needs) and it was sufficient for the portrait. What I was missing was my sideman who normally would be off the the side with the reflector to bounce more light into the subject. But you get the point....

"After Flash..."

This is no killer portrait by any means but I was able to enhance a set-up I desperately needed to learn from! That's so important to me. I have finally found a way to ease into making flash my friend, and not a moment too soon, as I have several events coming up which will be a good way to establish the new skills I'm  steadily working on. How exciting!

I know this was a lengthy post today so let's just ask this question...

What's your big scary foe? It could be your best friend if approached the right way! Thanks for the ramble... have a great day!


  1. I've always used flash outdoors and tried not to use it indoors (with a reflector--like a nearby piece of paper:). I just like the look better. The problem with flash is that you can burn out photos and cause the light areas to be too hot. It's such a learned thing, eh? Since I'm not in the business anymore, I've relaxed in this area quite a bit, but if you want to get technical... :)
    Still, it is such a personal thing. I like pics of my kids without flash because it gives them more dimension, but pics of me with flash. I like how it diminishes my wrinkles, lol!

  2. LOL... I'm with you Heather, flaws disappear rather nicely, I too like flash on me!
    My pursuit is to simply be better acquainted with it overall, instead of my current feelings that I bumble around with it when needed. There are too many instances I didn't get a moment in the past because the camera couldn't fire fast enough. That's all I really want it for. And as I move into off camera flash, hot spots will be a thing of the past too, whoo hoo!