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Flash Photography, The Natural Light Photographers Dirty Words

Free Photoshop Actions and Lightroom Presets by MCP™

Flash Photography, The Natural Light Photographers Dirty Words

Flash Photography! A free 6 part series on learning to LOVE and embrace flash photography.

One topic MCP Blog readers email me about all the time is flash – how to use their on or off camera flash, studio lights, and even what equipment they should purchase. I am very lucky to have Ainslie Bernoth of Wild Spirit Photography in Australia as a guest for the next week to teach you “all about flash.” So come back every day to learn more, bookmark the posts and please spread the word & link to these flash tutorials on Facebook and Twitter.

PART 1: Flash, the natural light photographers “dirty word”

The very word flash used to scare me to death!  I remember originally buying my flash because I had returned home from a shoot where I had to really push my ISO (on my then canon eos rebel) I was shattered from the shoot, it was a paying shoot and I had been made to use an ap of 2.8 with iso pushed right up to 800 (on a family of 5 with a newborn in a small room!)  Needless to say, it was a disastrous shoot! I panicked , when I arrived home I went right on eBay and purchased a flash hoping to bounce it ( whatever that was ) and give me some much needed light.

The next shoot which required flash, I ended up bouncing it (I had no idea what I was doing really just not firing it on the child) and as just praying for a good outcome. I don’t really know how I got it to work now I come to think of it, as all I knew was how to turn it on!

The images were critiqued as being “flashy” – another fail.

I then promptly tucked my little flash right back into my camera bag and decided to learn about it “another day,” but for now, it could keep my Gary Fong Lightsphere company in my camera bag.

Over the next few months, if ever I needed more light I would try anything BUT flash!  I battled wrestling with giant reflectors, I nearly burned myself alive with continuous lights, and I moved heavy furniture to be closer to windows to be close to the good light – ANYTHING but use my flash. I had the words “flashy” burnt into my mind.

I was, at the time working as a paid photographer. I am ashamed to say that some lighting situations made me an incompetent photographer. I had loved learning how to use natural light well, but when I was working, that good natural light wasn’t always the case.

I hated the feeling of not getting the images I wanted. I hated choosing the place I shot the image for the light, rather than the composition or the surrounds. If I had a great old barn in very bad light, I wanted to use that barn for my photo, not duck around the side where garbage bins were, but where the light was good!

I knew I wanted to be a better photographer. I was in this for the long haul, and that (to me) meant really learning my craft. This included artificial light (flash) I knew I liked it, I had seen some off camera lit shots that made my jaw drop, but could I use this for child photography?

Thus I set out on a 3 year journey to master flash, to not be afraid of it, and to enjoy creating my own light.

I have a TON of people to thank for my own personal flash journey, being tutored for 4 days by Zack Arias, 12 days with Ali Hohn (I live in Australia, so was able to coax them over with the lure of sun and sand, to mentor me) I also spent 10 days with the amazing Nichole Van and Joey L.

When I teach flash

Flash purest and big time strobist guys usually hate the way I teach flash. I get annoyed at their measuring, pacing, metering and testing. They get annoyed at my simplistic approach. There are many methods to learn flash; I chose what works for me. When working with children and families, I need shoot quickly! When shooting models on a studio shoot, I can afford to be more particular.

I use language and methods that works for me. I am a visual learner, not very technically minded, (unlike a lot of my male comrades who seemed to love the technical information!)

I have met many women who also felt the same way I do. Confused by the mere thought of working out the Inverse square law:

(2x the distance is 1/4 as bright, and 1/2 the distance is 4x brighter (2 stops)
3x the distance is 1/9 as bright, and 1/3 the distance is 9x brighter (8x is 3 stops)
4x the distance is 1/16 as bright, and 1/4 the distance is 16x brighter (4 stops), etc

Scary stuff!

Surely it was easier than that? I was hopeless at maths!

What I am going to teach you is how Flash makes sense to ME

  • Firstly, use your flash on MANUAL, just like a camera, you want full control over your images, and how they look. I don’t like leaving it up to the camera to decide on how much flash power my image needs, I want to decide that * I am quite the control freak*
  • Secondly decide what outcome you want. When you use your flash on images, essentially you will have control over what they look like.

When I am using flash as fill, I am not really wanting anyone to know I used flash. It is like I am using a reflector, (only more portable!) You don’t need to stand on one leg wrestling with a big reflector to be in the right spot, a little pop of flash is all that’s needed.

If I want a dramatic image, I don’t mind if anyone’s knows I used flash ( I laugh at how that used to scare me ) The best part about using  flash is , it is MY artistic vision which decides on how the image looks, not how good the natural light is .

I use flash on all my newborn shoots. My aim for these shoots is a more flat lit shot than with children or adults. I like the way good soft light flattens and evens out skin tones. I get consistent results and never need to worry about bad light or high iso’s.

What are the Benefits of flash photography?

  • Not having to compromise!
  • Image quality, not having to push my ISO or compromise my aperture for the shot I want. Being an artist with my photography.
  • Post processing!!! When using flash, almost none! Flattering skin tones, nice rich backgrounds, and clean is images. Time saving stuff!
  • Then of course it is the surroundings, using what I love, not what has good light!
  • In nut shell – flattering skin tones, the ability to change a scene, the ease of processing, the rich colours, the ability to shoot in all light, not being afraid of shadows or bad light.the list goes on and on.

It is NOT a fad, it is a skill!! Learning to use your flash will make you a better photographer!

I have had the pleasure of being personally tutored by Andrea Joki (twice!), Nichole Van, JoeyL, Zack Arias, Leah Profancik (twice!), Ali Hohn, and Dale Taylor.

I have studied in groups with Ashley Skjveland, Brianna Graham and Raye Law. This year I am bringing out Beth Jansen (November) to teach me more about colour, and Jodie Otte (Feb 2011) to beat some business sense into me!

I learn best, one on one. Personal mentoring (I pay my way) is the easiest and fastest way that I learn! I am where I am now, because of those listed above me, my sincere thanks to their amazing grace and skills.

We run flash workshops and one on one mentoring days – please email for information.

To learn more about Wild Spirit Photography, visit our site and our blog. Check the MCP Blog daily through October 5th, for more “flashy” posts. And don’t miss out on October 6th for a contest to win a 2 hour Skype photography mentor session with me.

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21 Comments

  1. August 19, 2012 at 5:12 pm —

    Ugh… I am the epitomy of a natural light photographer. I wish, wish, wish I could just retain al the info I am always torturing myself with trying to learn but I always feel like the rules dont apply to me for some reason (i.e.; it doesnt work).
    Someday Ill find a good mentor to learn from I guess!

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Flash Photography, The Natural Light Photographers Dirty Words