On Camera Flash Is Horrible Right? Wrong!
- Feb 6th. 2013
- Posted in General thoughts on Photograhy . lighting . Tips & Tricks
- @ThomasShue . bounce flash . Lilsamedia . lilsamedia.com . on camera flash . people pictures . photography . Thomas Shue . Thomas Shue Photography . tom shue
- By Thomas Shue
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On Camera Flash Is Horrible Right? Wrong!
Welcome to my blog. If you have worked with flash on your camera you must know by now it creates horrible looking images. The images come out looking flat and like they were taken for a mug shot. The reason for this is because a flash stuck on top of your camera is emitting light on the same exact axis of the lens. The flash on camera has no way to create any sort of interesting shadows and to boot, the light creates hard shadows. On camera flash has all sorts of things working against it, but all hope is not lost. Before I get into explaining how to make on camera flash look wonderful, let me define what an on camera flash is (for the purpose of this post). An on camera flash a speedlight type of flash you place in the hot-shoe of the camera, not the pop up.
There are many ways to use a speedlight, but sticking on top if a camera is almost never an option for a working professional. For the reasons described above, you want to take the flash off the camera so the light is off axis an can create shadows. However, in this post I am going to tell you to leave it on the camera and explain to you how to use it to make some pretty nice light. But first, there are two important rules you much master if you want to be great at lighting. The first and most important rule is, “Direction Of Light”. You have to envision where you want your light to be coming from and how it will fall on to your subject. Second, you must take control of the, “Quality Of The Light”. You see, light is all about Direction and Quality. Burn that into your brain, Direction and Quality of light mean absolutely everything when it comes to photography.
When working with a speedlight on your camera, it is impossible to put any soft of modifier on it that really works. You can’t put a large soft box on it, so I see people put on the little Stofen Tupperware caps, Gary Fong Dong thingy’s, bounce cards, rogue benders, you name it I have seen it. All of those things have one thing in common, All of those things eat up flash power. Now those things can be helpful if you are outside as a last resort. But if you are working outside, I say take the flash off the camera and put it on a stand and use some real modifiers. Remember, you always try to choose the right tool for the job. On camera flash outside just isn’t too good of an idea.
The magic of on camera flash is realized when you are working inside, because you get to bounce it. Bouncing the flash is super easy and extremely effective. To bounce the flash, all you have to do is imagine where you want the light to hit your subject and then point the flash to the point in space where you imagine the light coming from. I try to think, where would a soft box be if I wanted to light my subject. Then just point the flash where the soft box would be and bounce the light from there. I bounce at wired angles from the ceiling, walls, doors, it doesn’t matter. I bounce from wood paneling, wall tiles, wallpaper, brick wall’s and it works.
Don’t worry if you bounce at the ceiling at an away angle, it’s surprising at how much light that comes back to the subject even if the bounce angle seems to be a direct bounce away. Sometimes I have to turn my ISO up pretty high to make use of the returning scattered light when bouncing at extreme away angles. Using high ISO’s are OK with today’s camera’s, my 5D MkIII will make wonderful images at 3200 ISO, same with my 7D but I try to stay at a max of 2500. The main thing to know is, bouncing flash just works. There is one thing you must do if you want to bounce, you must block all light from the speedlight that can directly illuminate your subject. All of the light hitting your subject must be the light that was bounced. You can use your hand, or better yet get a piece of black foam and a hair tie to flag the flash from hitting your subject directly.
One of the hardest things to do with flash is to make it look like natural light. When you bounce light it hits a large surface and becomes a large light source, so it’s naturally soft. This soft Quality Of Light is what you are looking for most of the time. Now the direction at which you imagine the light coming from becomes the spot where you aim the speedlight. This bounce spot becomes the origin of the light and is thusly considered, The Direction of Light. If it seems confusing, it isn’t. Grab our flash and just try what I am saying. Let me show you a few examples to help illustrate what I am trying to explain.
First a little back story, I stumbled into a really neat cigar shop (no I do not smoke them). While I was there I saw the older woman hand rolling them. I found out she was from Cuba and only been here for a few months. She has been hand rolling Cuban cigars for decades. I spoke to the owner and asked if I could take a few pictures. Since I always have my camera, but didn’t want to set up the light stands, (I didn’t want to press my luck) I thew on a 580exII and bounced that baby to create some wonderful natural looking light.
In this image, I took a test frame to see what the ambient light looked like, and it was horrible. You might say, I could of shot from the other side and used the window as the main light, and I did.
This is an image with the window acting as the main light. There was not much room to work from that side, and I wanted to use the window as a back light so I could she what she was doing from behind the counter.
So I moved behind the counter to take my first image with bounce flash. I zoomed my flash to 105mm and turned the head backwards at an angle and tilted it upwards to bounce it into a drop ceiling and the wall behind me. I dialed the flash down a little so it did not compete with the window light. Notice you can still see the rim from the window on her forehead. Also note the light not hard and the shadows from her cheek and chin area reveal a light source coming from behind me, camera right and above. For a first shot, TTL did a great job. This bounce flash is very natural looking light.
In this shot I took control of the window light with shutter speed to darken the ambient light outside the window, and used my bounce flash as the main light. I have to say compared to the image at the top of the page (ambient light only), this one in very nice. Remember this is on camera flash with no modifier. I am just bouncing with direction & quality of light in mind. Also, I was not trying to make a dramatic portrait, I was trying convey what she is doing in a flattering way.
There were two shots that I liked from the series of images in the gallery below. The shallow depth of field from my 85mm f1.2 is magic. See what I mean in these two following images.
The bundle of cigars on the left if around $600, the object on the right is a die used in a press to compress the tobacco in to a rough cigar shape before it is hand rolled. I call that image, “Before & After”;)
I wonder how many stogies those hands have rolled in her lifetime?
I was able to take around 20 shots, and was invited back to do a real shoot whenever I have the time. You can see the rest of the images in the gallery below. When looking at the shots, think about the light with and without the on camera flash. Look at the quality of the light, try to determine the direction of the light. I cant wait to go back and shoot this place with a wide angle lens a few speedlihgts and some grids. If you made it through this long post, I say thank you. I hope you have a wonderful day. Sincerely, Thomas Shue