15 Flash Photography Tips

If you’re still using the basic, automatic flash that came pre-programmed into your camera, you’re missing out on the chance for clearer, more dynamic photos with customized flash settings. Here are just a few flash photography tips to get you started in a better and brighter world.

1. Know Your Options

There are many types of flash tools on the market, including:

– Speedlites
– Pocket lights
– Macro rings
– Hammerheads
– Studio flash

Each type has its own pros and cons, so do some research if you’re working within a budget or looking to create a particular effect in your photos. You might need a special kind of flash.

2. Determine Your Wants and Needs

Do you prefer a flash that mounts on your camera or your tripod? Do you require something battery-powered for outdoor photo shoots, or can you indulge in full-scale studio lighting that’s plugged directly into electrical outlets? Try to keep these things in mind as you consider your future in flash photography; not all flash tools are convenient or even useful for the modern photographer.

sony flash display

3. Research Battery Types

Speaking of batteries, there’s a lot to learn about the different types, brands, features and power capabilities available to you. For example, nickel–metal hydride batteries (NiMH) have a longer lifespan than nickel–cadmium batteries (NiCd), but older cameras might not accept them. Lithium ion batteries (Li-Ion) are small and light, but they can also be more expensive, so they’re not ideal for penny pinchers. You’ll need to decide for yourself which battery is right for you.

4. Limit Your Shutter Speed

Shutter speeds are measured in fractions of a second like 1/4 and 1/400, and high shutter speeds can capture fast-moving objects like birds and baseballs. However, you’ll need to be careful with your shutter speeds while you’re experimenting with flash photography tips. If you go longer than 1/200 – 1/250 of a second, your photos will come out distorted.

camera lens closeup

5. Speak the Language

If you’ve never heard of a “hot shoe,” you might assume that it’s a pair of overheated sneakers after a long afternoon of basketball. In reality, however, it’s a mounting point on the top of your camera where you can attach external flash units. You’ll need to learn this kind of lingo if you’re serious about taking advantage of flash photography tips.

6. Accessorize

Known as “flash accessories” or “flash modifiers,” these gadgets can be purchased along with your regular flash unit to customize the size, color, focus, direction and brightness of your light. Here are just a few modifiers that you might consider:

Color gels
Wireless syncs

We’ll talk about some of these accessories as we go further into detail with our flash photography tips, but if they’re completely new to you, you might want to type “flash modifiers” into a search engine and brush up on the basics.

camera accessories lined up

7. Buy a Light Meter

Last but certainly not least, if you often find yourself struggling to create the perfect set-up with your flash tools, consider investing in a light meter. These gadgets will give you all kinds of exposure readings that will help you correct and control the lighting of your photos. They aren’t always cheap, but they’re a long-term investment that can really benefit your photography career.

8. Take Advantage of Ambient Light

Ambient light is the natural light of your setting before you start bringing out the flash gadgets. It can be everything from the sunshine of an open field to the dim glow coming from the candles on a birthday cake. It’s important not to get so wrapped up in the possibilities of flash photography that you forget about the light that you already have, so make a habit of assessing your ambient light before hauling out the extras.

flash photography example

9. Diffuse It

Flash diffusers are another way to handle those bright lights that wash everything out. They’re typically available as boxes and domes that are attached to your flash unit to soften their illumination. Depending on their type, they can do things like filtering out white lights and reflecting lights off multiple surfaces for all-over saturation, so they’re very versatile tools for the job.

10. Bounce It

One of the most common flash photography tips is to “bounce” your light off a wall or ceiling instead of directly aiming it at your subject. Not only will this prevent harsh, unnecessary glares, but it will also give you the chance to experiment with shadows, angles, poses, orientations and general lighting effects without having to rearrange your subject every time.

couple with flash diffuser

11. Control the Flow of Light

Turn on your flash in a completely dark room. Do you notice how it comes out as a wide, expansive beam instead of a narrow point? You’ll need to focus and control the flow of light if you want anything other than big, undefined illumination. One recommended method in flash photography tips is to “block” it by taping foam blocks around the side of the flash unit, you can also experiment with shades, rings, and bounce cards.

12. Add or Subtract Some Color

Color gels are exactly what they sound like: colored filters that are placed in front of your flash to change the RBG levels of your photos. You can use them to enhance, soften, contrast or just complement the color balance of your shot, and they can be layered or combined as you see fit. You don’t often find color gels talked about in flash photography tips, so consider them a little-known secret of the industry.

photography color gels

13. Watch the Clock

This is especially important if you’re shooting outdoors, though it can also have an impact on the ambient light of windows and skylights. The position of the sun can really mess with the effects of your flash photography, so if you don’t want to open your reel at the end of the night to discover over- and under-exposed photos, make sure that you’re tracking and adjusting for the movement of the horizon.

14. Try Your Hand at Post-Processing

Amateurs and professionals alike digitally process their photos, so don’t be shy about firing up PhotoShop. In addition to general things like noise reduction and red-eye correction, post-processing software will also allow you to change the results of your flash photography by reducing shadows, increasing depth and heightening contrast.

wet red apple

15. Go Through the Lens

Through-the-lens (TTL) flash is a way of letting your camera decide the best flash output settings for any given photo. It uses small, controlled bursts of light known as “pre-flashes” that travel back through the lens and are measured by the camera. It’s an automated system instead of a manual one, so some photographers don’t like it, but it can be a useful trick if you get stuck.

These are just a few flash photography tips that will assist you on your way to greatness. What do you think? Did we leave anything out? Feel free to share other tips, tricks and techniques in the comment section.

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