Lighting – Flash

Why would I want more than a pop up flash?

Most DSLR's these days come with a built in pop up flash. By the time you move past knowing just the basics you will realize that this is not adequate. There are many reasons why:

1  The flash is always going to point directly at your subject - you can't vary the direction the light it is coming from. This is not always good.

2  The flash is going to explode straight onto your subject with all the harshness of an erupting volcano. When you begin to understand about light you will realize that harsh light isn't the photographers friend. (See our section on "flash diffusers")

3  The power of the built in flash is limited - so you're not going to be able to photograph things that are further than a couple of metres.

4  [Insert any one of hundreds more reasons]

There are many types of lighting and light modifiers at the photographers disposal, but for the beginner to intermediate options we'll limit ourselves to external flashguns.

Brand

You can buy a flashgun which is the same brand as your camera e.g. Nikon / Canon, and that will do a nice job - there's nothing wrong with that. Don't overlook other brands however, as long as they are made to fit the electronics of your camera brand. Just like with lenses you can buy other brands with e.g. "Nikon fit" / "Canon fit", and they should work fine with your camera. It may not be quite so prestigious, but you may find you get more power for your money. It's worth checking the specifications and comparing. We can't emphasise enough when going "off camera brand" you must make sure the flash is made specifically to fit your brand of camera.

Bounce Flash

One thing that is worth considering is whether your preferred model allows you to "tilt" the flash head both vertically and/or sideways. This will enable you to use "bounce flash". Bounce flash is where you "bounce" the light off, say, a wall or a ceiling. The light will therefore hit that surface before reaching your subject. There are many advantages with bounce flash such as: 

  • The quality of the light will be somewhat "diffused", making it softer, and more appealing
  • You avoid the really harsh light and shadows you'd get if the flash was pointing straight at your subject
  • If desired you can bounce the flash off a coloured object, allowing the light to take on that colour or sheen - depending on what you want this may be desireable or to be avoided
  • You can achieve the effect as if natural light was coming in from a window by bouncing the flash off a wall - i.e. the light will hit the side of your subject

Multiple Flashguns / Off Camera Flash

It can  be really useful to own 2 flashguns. You can get some great shots with lighting coming from different directions by using your flashguns "off camera", albeit you'll need to consult your camera and flash manuals for instructions on your particular models. You'll have a little portable studio in your kit bag. If you want to use your flashgun off camera check that it has this capability before purchase.

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There are many types of lighting and light modifiers at the photographers disposal, but for the beginner to intermediate options we'll limit ourselves to external flashguns.

Brand

You can buy a flashgun which is the same brand as your camera e.g. Nikon / Canon, and that will do a nice job - there's nothing wrong with that. Don't overlook other brands however, as long as they are made to fit the electronics of your camera brand. Just like with lenses you can buy other brands with e.g. "Nikon fit" / "Canon fit", and they should work fine with your camera. It may not be quite so prestigious, but you may find you get more power for your money. It's worth checking the specifications and comparing. We can't emphasise enough when going "off camera brand" you must make sure the flash is made specifically to fit your brand of camera.

Bounce Flash

One thing that is worth considering is whether your preferred model allows you to "tilt" the flash head both vertically and/or sideways. This will enable you to use "bounce flash". Bounce flash is where you "bounce" the light off, say, a wall or a ceiling. The light will therefore hit that surface before reaching your subject. There are many advantages with bounce flash such as: 

  • The quality of the light will be somewhat "diffused", making it softer, and more appealing
  • You avoid the really harsh light and shadows you'd get if the flash was pointing straight at your subject
  • If desired you can bounce the flash off a coloured object, allowing the light to take on that colour or sheen - depending on what you want this may be desireable or to be avoided
  • You can achieve the effect as if natural light was coming in from a window by bouncing the flash off a wall - i.e. the light will hit the side of your subject

Multiple Flashguns / Off Camera Flash

It can  be really useful to own 2 flashguns. You can get some great shots with lighting coming from different directions by using your flashguns "off camera", albeit you'll need to consult your camera and flash manuals for instructions on your particular models. You'll have a little portable studio in your kit bag. If you want to use your flashgun off camera check that it has this capability before purchase.

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