In DSLR photography, flash can either help or hinder the quality of an image- and if the user doesn’t know how to properly utilize this seemingly simple tool, it could spell disaster. Flash does come in handy when the light source is insufficient to make a decent photo, but there are cases where it is best left unused. If the lighting is adequate enough to use the f-stop and shutter speed solely to get a decent image, flash isn’t a necessity.
However, there are cases where this nifty little tool can dramatically improve your images and go from a pitch black abyss to the perfect shot. The first thing any photographer needs to know, no matter what their skill level, is how to use natural lighting. The word “photography” is derived from a Greek phrase literally meaning “painted in light,” so wouldn’t it make sense to understand how light can effect your images’? Depending on the effect you’re going for, see what the available lighting looks like without using flash and place the subject in the spot where the lighting looks best. If you want vivid details in your image, make sure the light source is in front of the subject. For more of a silhouette, place the subject in front of your light source or move it around until it looks right.
If the lighting isn’t doing much, now is the time to pull out your flash and get to work- but not all flashes are created equal. There are times when the flash included in your camera just won’t cut it. Many professional and beginner photographers alike opt to buy more advanced equipment that allows them to have more control and better quality images. Some camera companies will try to convince you that the pop-up flash on your camera will outdo any speedlight you can find on the market, but this is far from true. There are devices called “speedlights” that attach to the metal hook or “hot shoe” on top of your camera that will give you more freedom with using flash. Some speedlights such as the highly recommended Yongnuo brand are compatible with various different brands of cameras including Nikon and Canon. They rotate to different angles and have a number of settings and abilities, including the power to use a continuous flash when necessary. Most can be found online anywhere from $30 to $100, and really pays off in the end.
Once you find the right speedlight for your camera, you’re ready to work. Be sure to remember: power is key. The more powerful the speedlight, the better images you’re going to get. Now you’re ready to practice different shooting methods. A seriously under-utilized trick is bounce flash. Instead of pointing the flash directly at the subject (and creating harsh shadows and blinding the people in your picture), aim it at a surface that will project light back to you. If working indoors, this can be achieved by firing at the ceiling or walls in the background. For times when the photographer wants to have softer light, light diffusers- small white boxes that expand the light source- are the perfect tool. Another trick, something less discussed with beginners, is gel flash.
In times when the flash is too obvious, this inexpensive product can be used to change the color of the flash to blend in with the setting and make the flash more subtle. Noticing that your camera’s telling you the settings are “perfect,” but not giving you the image you want‘? By changing the flash compensation, you are now able to control your flash and get the quality you want. This is achieved by dialing the “stops” on your camera’s settings. Knowing when and where to use your flash can get highly frustrating, and in this way many people choose not to use their flash at all. But by refusing to understand how to use this simple means of making a bad photo look decent, you’re limiting yourself as a photographer and making life that much more difficult. Flash photography can seem horrifying to work with, and if you don’t know what you’re doing it’ll be a nightmare. But with patience and a little trial-and-error, anyone can master it and use it to their advantage.