Flash for beginners

I got a really nice email yesterday from a new student who is asking about how to get better photographs when using an external flash.

Here are some thoughts:

First, sign up for one of my flash courses. You knew I’d say that 🙂  If you’ve taken one of my basic courses I’d recommend taking te advanced camera course before taking the flash course as you will want to be familiar with shooting in Aperture and Shutter Priority, plus Program and Manual modes. Each mode creates different results when you’re using flash. (BTW some of the big and expensive photo schools in Toronto don’t even teach manual mode anymore as it’s too hard for their junior instructors to teach. That means nobody is teaching you how to shoot fireworks which must be shot in manual mode for best results. What’s with that?)

But even more important than taking courses, play with your equipment. Put the flash on the camera and, just for now, put the camera into “P” mode on your mode dial. This allows the camera and flash to do all the work around calculating exposure. At our course we’ll work with you and your equipment and experiment with what happens in the other modes but for now “P” mode is the way to go.

Once in “P” mode turn your camera on and turn on your flash and take a picture of somebody or something. When I was learning how my SB900 worked on my Nikon D300 I took photos of my favourite girl and I have to admit my favourite girl isn’t my wife,it’s Buffy The Cat. Why? Because unlike my wife who complains about the flash after the third shot, Buffy will let me shoot her all day long so long as I rub her head once in awhile. (This doesn’t work so well with my wife.)

Anyway if you don’t have a cat then get a potted plant and use it as your subject.

And here are some of the exercises:

  1. Take a photo with the flash pointed directly at your subject and look at the results:
  2. Now take a photo with the flash pointed straight up (almost all external flashes will rotate and pivot) and again compare your results;
  3. Same thing, but this time bounce off the side walls and compare;
  4. If you’ve got a diffuser dome or Gary Fong Lightsphere or HonlPhoto flash modifiers try those and see how they modify the light from the flash.

Now if your camera and flash combination will allow for wireless control, you can take really professional looking images by getting the flash off your camera entirely. That’s just one of the professional secrets we reveal during our advanced flash workshop. Not only is it great fun but you’ll learn how to shoot like a pro. This shot was taken at the David Tejada Small Strobe – Big Results workshop when it came to Buffalo, New York last year.

If you can’t get yourself to a Tejada workshop (highly recommended) then wait for this spring when we announce our own small flash workshop (with models and maybe even a lunch) at one of Toronto’s best neighbourhoods for photography. We’ll be doing workshops using studio lights and backdrops as well as workshops using small strobes, real models and both indoor and outdoor locations. You’re going to love it 🙂


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