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Lighting Tutorial Series: Part I – On Camera Flash Photography

These posts are for the intermediate to advanced photographers.

 

This will be the first in a series on lighting. I will be covering working with natural light, on camera flash/speed lights, and studio lights/flash heads.

I’ve gotten a few requests about working with flash photography in events so we’ll cover that today. I’ll be focusing on working with “on camera flash”. This can either be the built in flash or a flashgun attached to the camera.

 

Let’s look at two scenarios,

 

Scenario 1:

You’re photographing an event indoors and you are trying to capture all the fun and beauty. There are various coloured lights and the décor in the building is stunning, but the images are just too dark to be of any good. You’ve increased your ISO, opened up your aperture as far as you dare if you want to photograph people in groups and be in focus. You’ve also reduced your shutter speed and now you’re getting blurry images because you have to stand there for what seems like forever for the camera to take the picture.


Solution:

There’s never one way to skin a cat and this is no different. There are a few ways of solving this problem but we’re using on-camera flash this time.

The reason you can’t get both the background and the foreground or the subject exposed properly (exposed in this context means how dark or light) is because every camera can only handle capturing a specific range of light to dark (for those interested in the technical, every camera has a dynamic range usually between 5 to 10 stops.).

Most of the time, you will be trying to balance the subject with the background. If you’re trying to get images where the subject is exposed properly and the background is not too dark or too bright.

A good rule to try and remember is this:

Your aperture controls the exposure on the person when using flash and your shutter speed controls the exposure of the background.

I’ll explain briefly and if you’re interested in understanding the process behind this then leave a comment and I’ll go into more detail.

Without getting too technical, and please understand this is not an absolute rule. It’s just a starting point for you to try and then figure out what works best for you.

Auto: Shooting with your flashgun on auto.

Set your flash to TTL or auto and the metering on the camera to spot meter. Then set your shutter speed to a level where the background is as bright as you want it. The slower the shutter speed, the brighter it will be.

Next adjust your aperture to what you want, making sure your depth of field is enough for what you’re trying to photograph.

Before you take a picture make sure you’re focused on the face. This tells the camera to take a reading of the face and determine what level of light it needs. The flash should then automatically adjust and set a level that keeps the people exposed properly.

This works because you manually set the shutter speed and aperture to give a level that keeps the background from going totally dark, the camera does not change any of the settings but then decides to add the right amount of light to the people to get them lit properly which gives you the best of both worlds.

 

Manual: For even more control set your flashgun or built in flash to manual mode.

A good starting point would be to set your shutter speed low enough to where you allow enough light in to expose the background properly. (The slower it is the more light you let in; bearing in mind that if it is extremely slow there could be some interesting effects with people or moving things)

Then set your aperture to a number that works for you.  The image is likely too dark. Turn on your flash and either reduce the power or increase the power until the image looks good.

Now that you understand this you can play around with making the background darker or lighter depending on what you want to do.

(If you don’t know how to use your camera on manual mode then see my post on “know your body”)

 

That’s it for today. We’ll look at a second scenario tomorrow but be sure to try what we’ve discussed today.

Here are 2 images shot years ago (2006 to be exact) showing what can be achieved with a single flash gun.

 

The baby was shot with one speed light set to auto and the Camera on manual mode at ISO 200, F8, 1/80.  I allowed the background go black for the desired effect.

And the model and child was shot with one speed light on manual. Camera set to ISO 320, F6.3, 1/125. I wanted the background slightly darker than the subjects to make them stand out.

 

Behold the baby

Chloe was my first baby shoot. I'd love to see her now.

 

Mother and Child

Image shot in Nigeria during a fashion shoot

 

This is post 1 in a Lighting Tutorial series on using speed lights. For the previous post, see below.

Post 1  |  Post 2

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  • March 29, 2012 - 10:21 am

    Lighting Tutorial Series: Part II - On Camera Flash Photography - […] This is the second post in a lighting tutorial series on using on camera flash or speed lights. For the first part, click HERE. […]

  • July 17, 2012 - 9:44 pm

    a fantastic read - Oh my goodness! Awesome article dude! Many thanks,
    However I am encountering troubles with your RSS. I don’t know the reason why I am unable to subscribe to it. Is there anybody having similar RSS problems? Anyone who knows the answer will you kindly respond? Thanx!!

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