Although flashes are just one type of photography light, they are also one of the most common. Nearly all cameras these days have a built in flash and most professional photographers use a flash regularly for their work. Just like cameras, flashes vary significantly in their construction, functionality and accessories. Here is how you can get the most out of using your flash.
The Studio Flash
These are the types of flashes that you see used on fashion shoots. They're more powerful than traditional in-camera lights, held in place by light stands, and need an external power supply. Studio flashes are super useful photography lights. They can be easily moved around and have their output and duration adjusted so you have complete lighting control over your final image.
First of all, make sure that your flash is firing into a light umbrella or some other type of diffusing contraption. A direct flash will usually overpower your subject so it's better to use a couple of reflectors and umbrellas to bounce light off your subject. With studio flashes they usually have a "modeling" light that will let you see the result from your setup so you should be able to map out your light pretty well.
Also, keep your subject away from the backdrop to prevent sharp shadows from showing up in the image. You've probably seen this effect in photographs that were shot with a digital camera - because the flash is dead center it casts a person-shaped shadow on the wall. Lastly, you should use more than one light source. When you have more photography lights, the more flexible your light becomes and the better quality of a picture you'll get.
Many cameras are built right into the camera and work on an automated basis. While this is certainly excellent in terms of convenience and cost, automatic flash is often responsible for terrible photographs. However, there will be times when the lighting is poor, and you simply can't use studio lights (for example at weddings).
Just like using a studio flash, you'll want to bounce your flash if at all possible so that it's less harsh. When it comes to lighting, think of all the impromptu light reflectors you have around your house like tablecloths, walls, ceilings and white poster board that will all work great. As a good rule of thumb, you should never rely on a flash as your only light source. Flash looks best when used to augment the light you already have, so whenever possible try to only use it to fill in the dark spots. Finally, remember that flashes have an effective range - if your subject is too far away the photo will be underexposed.
Flash photography is a complex subject and requires many years of practice to completely master. If you're looking to take your photography to the next level, you should consider adding some photography lights to your "photo toolbox." With the right knowledge and lighting setup you really can make every photograph look like a masterpiece.
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