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    flash photography techniques

    01 natural looking flash

    flash photography techniques intro page ~ natural looking flash ~ flash & ambient light

    Making flash not look like flash:

    I use flash very often in my professional work and personal work. But I try and make the use

    of flash not appear intrusive in the photograph. I nearly always have an on-camera flash, but

    I try to diffuse it or bounce it wherever possible. I use as little direct flash as I can, except

    outdoors where I try and use available light, and use flash only to lift the shadows and reduce

    the contrast. However, sometimes it is just best to overpower the ambient light with flash

    but still try to make it look natural, ie, not like flash.

    Lets start off with these few photos. They were all done using flash on camera.

    Youll note that there is no discernable flash shadow. I absolutely loathe a distinct flashshadow. So thats the ideal that I always strive for that it shouldnt be obvious that I didnt

    just use existing light. It isnt always possible, but that is what I try for in every photograph.

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    This was shot at f2, with flash bounced

    directly behind me into the open roomto just help lift the shadows. Note,

    there is NO flash shadow.I purposelydidnt use a diffuser dome / Stofen

    omnibounce here, since it wouldve

    thrown too much flash directlyforward. I needed all the flash to be

    indirect.

    specific settings:

    Nikon D2H

    Nikon 85mm f1.4

    1/125th @ f2 @ 400 iso

    manual; matrix metering

    TTL flash: -1.7 exp comp

    My choice of settings here were

    dictated by the available light, and I

    just used a hint of flash by bouncing it

    into the huge room behind me. At f2,

    and as fill, I didnt need to blast a ton

    of light from my strobe.

    .

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    Flash bounced over my left shoulder.

    Note that there is NO direct flash, andhence no flash shadow.specific

    settings:Nikon D2H

    Nikon 28-70mm f2.8

    1/250th @ f4 @ 400 isomanual; matrix metering

    TTL flash: +1 exp comp

    The high shutter speed was a specific

    choice so that the stained-glass

    window wouldnt be blown out, but

    instead retain the colours. The bride

    was entirely lit by bounced flash, so by

    controlling my shutter speed (for my

    chosen aperture and iso), I could

    match the exposure for the window.

    I bounced flash off that sand-coloured

    brickwork, and this did affect my

    colour balance but since I shoot in

    raw, correcting the WB was no effort.

    With those two photos different flash exposure compensation was set.

    In the first image, the flash was used as subtle fill-flash, and therefore the flash compensationwas dialed down.

    In the 2nd image, the brides face is lit entirely by flash. Hence my flash is my main source oflight. So I would have to start somewhere around 0 EV compensation. But from experience I

    knew that the lighter toned face, and white dress and the backlighting would influence myflash exposure. So I dialled in more flash exposure.

    In this next image, I bounced my on-camera strobe off the wall directly behind me.

    One of the best pieces of advice I can give regarding using bounce flash, is not to get stuck on

    the idea that you need a ceiling above you to bounce flash. Look around for other surfaces

    that can be used.

    By making my light source larger than just the area of the small flash tube, I am immediately

    making my light softer. And this is exactly the reason why we bounce flash.

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    Before setting this up, I made a few

    test shots to see that the city lights arecorrectly exposed. Then I positioned

    the couple.Because I wanted to movearound, I decided to use TTL and not

    manual flash but this meant I had to

    bracket my exposures and ride myflash compensation.

    specific settings:

    Canon 24mm f1.4

    1/20th @ f4 @ 640 iso

    manual; eval metering

    TTL flash: -1.7 exp comp

    The slow shutter speed is to allow the

    city lights to record.

    Because the flash and the city lights

    are vastly different in colour

    temperature, I fixed it in post-

    production. With raw, it was little

    effort to create two images with

    different WB settings, and then

    combining them with layers in

    Photoshop.

    Tangents

    02 flash + ambient light

    flash photography techniques

    natural looking flash ~ flash & ambient light ~ dragging the shutter

    Here I want to illustrate a particular point for those who disdain flash and prefer ambient light

    only even if flash wouldve helped.

    With a bit of thought, and understanding of some essential techniques, using flash need not

    look unnatural, nor spoil the ambient light.

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    By metering for the ambient light .. ie. making sure my ambient exposure is correct, I coulduse flash to lift the shadow areas and make it a better image than it wouldve been without

    flash.

    Have a look at the following photo :

    I bounced flash off the church wall.The church was large, and the ceiling

    high .. but by shooting in a vertical

    position, I could bounce my flash

    straight towards the church interiorwall to my left.

    This spilled enough light onto the

    couple to improve the image, andmake my post-production time much

    less.

    (Starting with an image that is veryclose to the ideal exposure and WB

    will really speed up your workflow)

    The settings were:

    Canon 1Dmk2NCanon 70-200mm f2.8 IS

    1/125th @ f2.8 @ 1000 isomanual; eval metering

    TTL flash: 0 exp comp

    I purposely did NOT use anomnibounce / Stofen attachment, since

    I didnt want flash to spill forward for

    the series of images I took here. I did

    NOT set my flash to 45` since this

    would not have been a correct angle to

    bounce at.

    As the parents walked down the aisle, I had time to make a comparison shot without flash.(I did this specifically for presentation here).

    So here are two shots in succession. The one with flash, and the one purely ambient light. The

    shot with flash had the WB slightly adjusted, the other is directly out of camera. Exposuresettings remained the same, and I didnt touch up exposure in raw either.

    Note that the flash shot has NO flash shadow. It looks natural, and a hell of a lot better than

    the ambient-only shot. By using flash, *I* controlled the light, and didnt merely shrug my

    shoulders and complain that the ambient light wasnt ideal.

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    To improve exposure for the ambient-only shot, I couldve set a slower shutter speed, andrisked blur as they move and from camera shake. Or I couldve bumped up my iso to get the

    higher shutter speed, but then have to deal with increased grain. Also, the ambient light isnteven. With flash I had much more control over how the final image looks.

    And with this I am also daring the ambient-only purists to tell me that the image with flash

    doesnt look a lot better than the ambient shot.

    Tangents

    03 dragging the shutter

    flash photography techniques flash & ambient light ~ dragging the shutter ~bouncing flash

    balancing flash and ambient light dragging the shutter

    When balancing flash with the available light, the combination of settings is usually chosen

    so that the mood of the place and surrounds is retained or at least have the available

    light add to the image. In doing so, the advice is often given to drag the shutter. Inallowing a slower shutter speed, more of the ambient light is allowed to register and influence

    the final image.

    dragging the shutter

    This is a very simple technique but an understanding of how and when to apply it, often

    seems elusive.

    So lets take a step back and considerambient exposure.

    Here we have three controls for our exposure shutter speed, aperture and ISO.

    With flash, we have two completely different beasts to consider manual flash, and TTL

    flash. We will have to consider manual flash and TTL flash separately, since their behaviour

    and how you control the exposure for each, are fundamentally different.

    balancing manual flash with ambient light:

    Looking first at manual flash we have 4 controls:

    - aperture, ISO, distance, power.

    this distance would be the distance from your light source to the subject, and it should

    intuitively make sense already. The closer you move your manual flash (perhaps in a

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    softbox) to your subject, the brighter the light would be, and hence it would affect yourexposure.

    Similarly, it should already make sense that if we increase or decrease the power setting onour manual flash, this too would affect exposure.

    Now, comparing the controls between what affects ambient exposure, and what affects

    manual flash exposure, we can see that there are two common controls aperture and ISO.This means that shutter speed becomes the independent control for available light

    exposure. So when we balance manual flash and ambient light, it makes most sense to start

    by adjusting the shutter speed, since adjusting the aperture or ISO in an attempt to change the