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Flash Photography, The Natural Light Photographers Dirty Words


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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.

IMG_98872 Flash Photography, The Natural Light Photographers Dirty Words Guest Bloggers Photography Tips

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.


No Comments

  1. Libby on September 27, 2010 at 9:14 am

    THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU! I am starting a four part class in studio digital lighting this evening…I want to be able to use my flash when needed and not see it as a “dirty word” but to make my photos better. I too have felt completely incompetent when dealing with horrible lighting. I want that confidence BACK! Thanks for posting!

  2. Jen on September 27, 2010 at 10:17 am

    Oh goodness, I am so looking forward to this series. I very much can relate to the gut reaction of “flash? what? that’s not what I do…” and yet, I own an external flash, and I make feeble attempts at using it correctly. Please, teach me! Definitely need all the help I can get.

  3. Deann on September 27, 2010 at 10:46 am

    I love Ainslie’s work! I have recently decided to become better friends with my flash.. I know the basics, but need to use it more so I’m not scared by it! Also, getting it off the camera… that’s something I really need!

  4. Meggan on September 27, 2010 at 10:58 am

    I can’t wait! I really need to learn more about using my flash!

  5. Sarb on September 27, 2010 at 11:20 am

    Wow, I totally relate to being “afraid” of flash, but I now want to learn all about it. This is a great post and I look forward to reading the rest!

  6. Jill Rains on September 27, 2010 at 11:27 am

    Thanks, Jodi, for saying this stuff out loud! 🙂 Being an Olympus shooter made me realize early on that I was not going to have good sessions if I went the “natural light” route every time. While I have dreams of one day being able to shoot naturally more often, I have to use the camera and lenses I have to the best of their ability and this meant having to get a flash and learn how to use it! I enjoy not processing the heck out of my photos now! I can’t wait to hear how other photographers figured it out for themselves!

  7. Bobbie on September 27, 2010 at 11:38 am

    Widow. Thus is just what I need especially the reality of using flash w kids not in studio I am going to b reading and re reading this I can relate to what is being said here about flash and look forward to the lessons to come when u use the flash w newborns and I love the photo u have here in this post I am wondering is it on camera? Or off camera? Thanks so much for these lessons

  8. Jenn Reno on September 27, 2010 at 12:38 pm

    Perfect series for me! I sooo want to learn to use flash correctly. I have been too scared to even go there. I am the person totally hunting for the good light and shying away from beautiful places that aren’t lit well. I want to learn flash! Can’t wait to read more!

  9. Lisa on September 27, 2010 at 3:43 pm

    I am in the same boat as you used to be. I typically steer away from it and have been avoiding buying one (my new canon 5dmii doesn’t have even a pop up), but I need to. So hate that I have to spend money on it, but I can’t wait to hear and learn more..especially from a fellow “math-atheist”. LOL. Gotta do it with the winter season coming up, too. thanks, keep it coming!

  10. Maddy on September 27, 2010 at 4:09 pm

    So exciting!! I get squeamish everytime I think of the “F” word, so this is definitely for me 🙂

  11. Maggie on September 27, 2010 at 4:18 pm

    This is awesome! I have had some of the very same thoughts. I want to learn more about flash too!! Yay-thank you for this new series of posts. Can’t wait to read more!

  12. Wild spirit photography on September 27, 2010 at 5:53 pm

    Hi everyone thanks for the feedback , I know how frustrating it all can be! I am glad to know it is going to be of help to so many !In regard to the image in this post it was lit by a soft box and a studio strobe , just one big light camera left – iso 100 , shutter speed 125 and aperture 6.3 I hope you al enjoy this series!

  13. cynthia on September 27, 2010 at 6:05 pm

    Thanks for this! These are my EXACT sentiments when it comes to flash photography. I even had similar experiences using a flash I purchased, but they weren’t paying shoots (thank goodness). I bought an off-brand and attributed my issues with it, but as time as passed, I think it’s me and not the flash. I’ll have to re-eval it and my skills after this post. :)I’m definitely considering the workshop.

  14. Trude on September 27, 2010 at 6:53 pm

    What a great post! Would love to know more about how she did that shot – so lovely! This is something I really need to learn more about too, so thanks! 🙂

  15. Jennifer B on September 27, 2010 at 9:28 pm

    Ok, I need this coming week so badly! I have found myself in situation after situation with poor light, but without good knowledge of my flash. Thank you for this series. I will be reading vigilantly.

  16. Clipping Mask on September 28, 2010 at 1:06 am

    wow! excellent work! I always like to read your blog post 🙂

  17. Michelle Kersey on December 28, 2010 at 1:53 am

    I feel like I could have written everything you said about where you started with flash and how frustrated you were using inadequate natural light, pushing ISO, using too low an aperture… That’s me… 2 weeks ago. 2days ago… I got a speedlite! Off to learn and read everything you’ve posted about Flash… I feel like I’m walking in your shoes right now… I can only hope to learn a tenth of what you did.

  18. Kate on March 8, 2011 at 6:09 pm

    Hi Ainslie,I have been learning as much as I can about flash on my own as I live here in Manila while my husband is working here. I love using flash and want to really master it. It is hard to get out there and try it on your own for the first time with a client but I took the plunge! I have attached one of my favourite shots and wanted to share it. I can honestly say it WAS scary putting it into practice but the boost to my self-confidence has been so worth the anxiety. I feel inspired when I read blogs like yours as women are somewhat in the minority when it comes to flas work. But we can do it!

  19. Image Clipping Path on September 10, 2011 at 2:25 am

    WOW!! What a cute photography. Love it very very much. Thanks. 🙂

  20. Clipping path BD on February 16, 2012 at 9:49 am

    Good teaching. Thanks for sharing your thought.

  21. Jyn on 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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