Ready To Start Shooting With a Flash? Here’s Where to Start!

Free Photoshop Actions and Lightroom Presets by MCP™

Ready To Start Shooting With a Flash? Here’s Where to Start!

Part 4: Ready To Start Shooting With a Flash?  Here’s Where to Start!

In the wise words of Zack Arias, “just start somewhere!” You know you have a shutter speed limit of 200, so I often start there; I then choose an aperture, usually something middle of the road say 5.6.

I could use a light meter; however I just look at my histogram and LCD.

If the image is too light, I will close up (raise the number ) my aperture and or shutter speed, or move my light back a little.

If the image is too dark, I need my flash power increased. I do this by decreasing (widening) my aperture, from say 5.6, to 3.5, this will give the flash more power. IF I am shooting at 2.8 and Shutter speed say, 20, and the image is still too dark (shooting late in the afternoon at dusk), then I will go to my iso. Iso makes the digital film more sensitive to light, so in effect, it is a like a little gas pedal for flash power, should you need it.

If the background is too dark, I will lower my shutter speed to let more light into my background, from 200, to say 80.

I will then tweak to suit my idea of how the image should look.

What limitations do I have starting out?

Cameras have sync speeds; this is the maximum shutter speed you can use when you are using flash. Canon is 200 mostly (300 with 1Ds) Nikon is 250-350 depending on the model. You will get a black band on your images if you use a shutter speed greater than this! Remember that!

Flash power, once you get a handle on flash photography, you might find that smaller lights like speed lights or sb’s are a little limiting to your visions. They only have so much power. If I want to shoot outdoors at 1 pm, in full sun and need a dark background, I have to use all the tricks I can.

I make the camera really block all the light I can by using an aperture of 32! Maximum for my lens, and a maximum shutter speed to all block ambient light I can (200 sync speed). I will need a big strong light to now give me enough light to light my subject at an aperture of 32!

Your speed light will be limited, and so therefore will the exact image in your mind.

That is why afternoons are still the best time to use flash photography when you are starting out. If you do not have BIG strong flash units, you won’t be able to get the rich images you want


Basic lighting placement is not as confusing as it seems there are all these diagrams and internet sites explaining different techniques like broad lighting, short lighting butterfly lighting. When using one light, I like to use Ainslie Lighting and decide where I want my portable sun to be. If I could move the sun, I am never going to want it under a face, or shooting right at a face, or even from directly above a face, I’d like it around 10 pm, or 2 pm , if the face is at 12 o clock. I’d like a nice soft big light so shadows are not too harsh (for children and women).

Below are a few examples of where I place my lights

Softboxes – umbrellas – Diffusers

This is a term for anything that spreads out or scatters light in some manner, to give softer light.

Soft boxes, umbrellas, big white boards, anything to fire a flash into that will then bounce back to the subject softer than a flash fired bare. Light diffused in this way will create a softer light as it bounces onto a big surface, then bounces back to the subject and spreads.

The nearer the light is to the subject the less of a point (condensed light) It will be softer, and the shadows will actually be softer on the subject. When the light is pulled away, the shadows are harsher; the light also spreads, and becomes weaker and harder to control.

Umbrellas are very portable, easily managed by one person and will fit easily in a small car, or your camera kit.  Westcott soft boxes, made to be used with speed lights are also lovely for soft light; however they are much more cumbersome. , and harder to control. Both these diffusers are not great in high wind! If very windy, I use an alien bee a battery pack and a big heavy beauty dish!

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.

Free Photoshop Actions and Lightroom Presets by MCP™
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  1. October 1, 2010 at 2:16 pm —

    You have a typo in your article. You state, “If the image is too dark, I need my flash power increased. I do this by decreasing (widening) my aperture, from say 5.6, to 3.5, this will give the flash more power. ”

    I think you meant to say, “increasing your aperture”, which is the same as widening it. You decrease your f/stop or increase your aperture size to brighten an exposure.

  2. October 1, 2010 at 2:05 pm —

    My Canon 40D has a sync speed of 1/250th second and if I take it off camera I can sync up to 1/320th using my Cybersync transmitter.

  3. September 30, 2010 at 11:36 pm —

    Ainslie! Thank you so much! I’ve had my 580 sitting in my bag for a year, almost completely untouched. You’re speaking my language! Non technical, while still being specific. Love the visuals you’re sharing too. This is the first ocf tutorial I’ve read that hasn’t intimdated me. Now off to buy (ok, make a wishlist) for my stand, triggers, and umbrella.

  4. Amber Norris
    September 30, 2010 at 9:21 pm —

    Thank you so much for these posts on OCF! This has been so very helpfull to me.

  5. September 30, 2010 at 1:49 pm —

    Nicely explained. Love your series so far! Zack is one of my photography heroes too. My photography really changed when I started using off-camera flash instead of just natural light. I’m just loving it!

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Ready To Start Shooting With a Flash? Here’s Where to Start!