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Archive 2011 · Flash Practice - Any Tips appreciated!
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p.1 #1 · p.1 #1 · Flash Practice - Any Tips appreciated!

In light of the Christmas Season, it's time to take pictures of the Family indoors and break away from the long telephotos.

Now I'm not a Speedlite Master but I figured I would put up a couple of the photos I've shot indoors recently. Looking for advice on how I can improve the exposure, post-processing etc...

All shot with 50mm/1.8 and bounced off the ceiling/diffused YN-467.

I don't like the shadows from his hands or behind his head. Any ideas on how I could have used the flash differently?

This looks better to me, but maybe a bit hot on the Misses' skin?

Dec 15, 2011 at 05:06 PM
Ryan R

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p.1 #2 · p.1 #2 · Flash Practice - Any Tips appreciated!

Wonderful memories. I think the first could have been much better if there weren't so many different colors/different patterns in the photo. Try to get 1 pattern and solid color, if any.

1st photos exposure is fine, it just lacks punch. I'd give it a tad bit of warmth in photoshop. Also you could try experimenting placing the child near a window with flash to get a makeshift rim-light from the window in addition to your flash. Also, experiment with bouncing your flash off of different walls. I find bouncing sideways of a wall sometime works very well.

You also might get nice results by going for flash as just a bit of added fill. Expose as you would indoors, and raise the shutterspeed/lower iso/close the aperture from that point to make it darker. Bounce your flash off a surface on very low power. Just experimenting will sometimes give you great results. Good luck!

Dec 16, 2011 at 03:53 AM
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p.1 #3 · p.1 #3 · Flash Practice - Any Tips appreciated!

What makes flash photographs look more natural is when the angle of the light winds up matching the angle that natural light illuminates the things we see — our baseline for "normal". On average natural light during the day hits at an downward angle of 45°. What makes flash shots scream "fake" is the fact the angle of the light is too low, more on the order of "deer in the headlights" than natural.

With any hot shoe technique the overall lightness of the shadows and perception of softness comes from the light bouncing off the ceiling above the subject. Bouncing light is one way to change it's angle to a more natural looking 45° downward direction, but the light scatters so much the overall effect becomes as bland and flat as outdoor lighting on an overcast day. What I prefer is the results obtained with a flash bracket and diffuser like this...


While the bracket may seem cumbersome the improvement in the results is worth it IMHO. The bracket is a Stroboframe camera flip which costs $48 at B&H. You'll also need the OC-E3 cord for connecting the flash. A less expensive version of the cord can be found at Flash Zebra. The diffuser is DIY and plans are here: http://photo.nova.org/DIY01/

What the bracket and diffuser do is raise the flash and change it's angle to downward relative to the faces of your subjects creating very flattering "butterfly" modeling on the faces indoors or outdoors...


The light isn't entirely shadowless, but the angle the bracket creates casts all the distracting shadows back and down out of sight. The difference in the character of the lighting between the first and third examples above was a result of how much light got spilled off the ceiling. In the first shot the ceiling was high and there was very little spill light off the ceiling to soften the shadows and bounce into the background. That worked there because I wanted to isolate her with a darker background. In the last shot I faced the challenge of making the white shirt non-distracting and recording a full range of detail so I stood on a chair with the top of the diffuser pressed against the ceiling to get maximum "spill fill".

So what you need to control the look of the lighting with flash is: 1) directional control over the "key light" component, and 2) intensity control over the "fill" component which with single flash is a function of trying to split the light into two paths: direct "key" component from the bracket and bounced "spill fill" from the ceiling.

More precise control and more lighting options can be obtained by adding a second flash. A problem with all single flash on camera shots is the light falls off front >back resulting in a "shot in a cave" look. But if you do nothing more the park a second flash in the corner behind the action you will get a more natural look similar to when the sun is behind the subject's outdoors...


Because you have separate fill and key sources it is possible to dial in whatever look you want with the lighting ratio..

light open shadows...
... or darker shadows creating a more serious mood in the lighting...

With dual flash you are able to create the look of "studio" lighting in candid shots simply by placing the off camera flash 45° to the side of the subject's nose (wherever it is pointing)...
... then walking back around 90° to the opposite oblique view to take the shot...

Canon wireless ETTL ratio and Nikon CLS have made the technical part of using dual flash quite simple. See: http://photo.nova.org/CanonPracticalUsage/

The creative part of making flash seem more natural is quite simple too— just keep the fill flat and even to reach all the shadows and put the off camera flash higher than the subjects so it hits at a downward 45° angle and either centered, or 45° from the nose and you'll get natural looking, very flattering lighting on faces. When you can't precisely place the key light 45° from the nose (because the nose is moving around too much) then putting the off camera flash behind the action creates a natural looking "sun at the back" rim lighting effect which creates 3D spacial separation single flash on camera and bounce shots lack.


Dec 16, 2011 at 01:26 PM

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p.1 #4 · p.1 #4 · Flash Practice - Any Tips appreciated!

Wow! Thanks!

I have some PT-04s on the way and I plan on grabbing a 550EX or something similar to get a two light setup. So this is exactly what I was looking for!

When they arrive I'll see if I can put your tips to use and show the results... at least the off-camera part. Unless Santa brings a 580EX. lol

Dec 16, 2011 at 02:31 PM
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p.1 #5 · p.1 #5 · Flash Practice - Any Tips appreciated!

I've always only used the built-in optical signaling. Optical signaling has gotten a bad reputation because a lot of people just don't understand how to use it effectively. That's not the say radio triggers aren't better, just that you shouldn't automatically assume you need them, buy them, and never learn to use the Canon system.

When I bought my Canon flash I'd been using pairs of optically triggered manual Vivitars for 30+ years so I was well aware of the limitations of optical triggering and manual power setting. I bought Canon because I wanted the convenience of ETTL in action situations and HSS outdoors. The Canon system works well indoors because the slave doesn't need line of sight indoors it just needs to see enough light from the Master directly or bouncing off the ceiling. Outdoors line of sight is needed between Master and Slave because there's nothing to indirectly bounce the light towards the slave sensor.

While there are some situations where you might want to trigger a flash from 50 or 100 feet away that's not the case for 99% of the flash shots I take. Again you need to remember its the downward angle of the light which makes light naturally flattering and as the distance increases beyond about 15ft the angle decreases unless you raise the lights higher on tall stands.

The slave sensor is the small gray lens on the front of the base. Common sense will tell you it needs to be aimed wherever the light from the Master is strongest and not blocked by a modifier for the optical signaling. Those two criteria were taken into consideration when I created my diffusers. They sit on top of the upright flash which makes it easy to orient the base towards the master on the camera, and then turn the diffuser to the subject.

There's also a lot of misunderstanding about the cause and effect of creating "soft" lighting. "Hard" and "Soft" are perceptual reactions to the highlight placement on the face and the shadow tone clues. Flash on camera looks "fake" in part because the highlights the flash creates on the cheekbones are lower than those seen in natural downward light. Raising the flash on the bracket doesn't make it any "softer" but it moves the highlights up to the top of the cheeks, chin and lips where they look more "normal" and natural.

The mood and character of lighting is controlled with the tone of the shadows and that's a function of the fill intensity relative to key light. When using single flash you need to rely on "spill fill" off the ceiling. Even when using direct flash or small modifiers like mine there is a lot of spill fill generated. But with one flash you can't control it the same way as with a two flashes with separate centered fill..

With a separate centered fill source, like a Master flash on a bracket over the camera, you will get smooth open shadows with front > back fall off. Many assume shadow transitions are entirely the result of "wrapping" a large key light around a face when in fact what the larger source tends to do is bounce more spill fill around the room and into the shadow side opposite the key light. With centered shadowless fill you don't really need a huge key light modifer, as illustrated in this comparison...


The kids were visitors who had dropped by after a day of sightseeing. I grabbed the camera with speedlights to shoo the boy then finding they had time switched to my studio lights with much larger modifiers. The interesting thing about that comparison is the fact that light on the girl seems harsher than the boy despite the larger modifers and lighter shadow tone. That's because the boy had washed his face when he arrived removing the oil but his sister wearing make-up didn't. Shiny skin trumps larger modifiers in the highlights, but the overall mood of the lighting and transitions on the shadow side are controlled mainly by the front > back fall off of the even centered fill.

Dec 16, 2011 at 03:19 PM
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p.1 #6 · p.1 #6 · Flash Practice - Any Tips appreciated!

Very knowledgeable write up! Thank you.

I've been playing with 580ex and a 430ex using both optical and also with Cowboy poppers.
With a single flash it's very convenient and portable to use a bracket and the radio popper for a cable-free system while in the field. This whole gallery was shot this way: Fungus Foray

Dec 20, 2011 at 07:08 AM

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