Let There be LIGHT! Part 1

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Hey you gorgeous FStoppers! Let’s talk LIGHTING!

Now, flash photography is something I avoided for a long, long time because truth be told I was intimidated by all the technical aspects of using flashes. I told myself I was a natural light photographer, that it was more my style and I even told myself that I didn’t like “the flash look”. A quick glance through my photos will tell you the opposite is true now. I absolutely LOVE flash photography! There’s nothing more awesome than being able to craft your own light.

It’s not all that difficult to get started either! Hands down the best beginners guide to flash photography is Strobist.com’s Lighting 101. David Hobby is a fantastic teacher and a master of crafting light, and his site is aimed at everyone from the absolute beginner who’s never used off-camera flash, to experts who’ve been doing this for years. I won’t go into all the detail about the ins and outs of flash because David’s done a far better job than I ever could. Rather, I’ll just try and give some creative examples to hopefully spur you into playing around yourself and having some fun!

50 - I'm Never in the Picture

My Flash Gear:

There’s a huge variety of flash equipment you can play with, but really all you need to get started is a flash, some remote triggers, a lightstand, a mounting bracket, and an umbrella/softbox (both of which soften the light so it’s not so harsh). Then once you’ve played around with the basic gear, you can build up your equipment over time.

Bare in mind that all the flashes and flash triggers I’ll be mentioning are for Nikon systems because that’s what I use – so if you use another brand you’ll have to find alternatives. The brand I use the most – YongNuo – also make gear for Canon and others.

1) Flashes: The first flash I bought was an expensive Nikon SB910 – definitely overkill. It’s a top-of-the-line flash but is extremely expensive and in my personal opinion isn’t great value for money. Later on I grabbed a second flash, a YongNuo 568EX – IMO just as good as the SB910 but less than half the price. My 3rd flash is an ultra cheap YongNuo 467-II – I snagged that badboy for $80!

2) Triggers: To trigger the flash remotely (so you don’t have to have the flash sitting on the top of your camera) you can just nab some cheap triggers from Ebay – I use the YN-622N triggers, but there’s cheaper ones like the RF-603N.

3) Lightstands + Brackets: For lightstands (to position your flash wherever you want), I use some super-cheap ones I bought from China on Ebay. You’ll also need a bracket, which just sits on top of the lightstand – its what you attach the flash to.

4) Softboxes/umbrellas (Lighting Modifiers): I also bought a cheap softbox from Ebay (or you can DIY your own). You can also try shoot-through umbrellas (which spread the light out even more than a softbox).

5) Extra stuff: And you can also play around with using cardboard tubes and other things to really focus into a concentrated area (this is called a “snoot”). And if you want to be the coolest kid on the block, you can try putting things like leaves/patterned-material in front of the flash to cast interesting shadows onto your subjects. Fancy!


Having Fun with Flash:

There’s a million different things you can do with flash photography, so let’s check out some creative examples! We’ll take a look at backlighting, coloured lighting and concentrating the light.

249 - Bust My Own Chops
249 – Bust My Own Chops

Here’s an example of backlighting. There’s a flash behind me on a lightstand facing straight towards the camera, lighting up my hair and the tops of my shoulders. It’s a great way to get a subject to stand out from a background, especially when the subject and the background are the same colour or the same tonality. My grey shirt would have been lost against the grey background if not for that little pop of orange/yellow light.

Usually, putting yourself between the flash and the camera (so you’re blocking the flash) is the best way to go, because if you don’t block the flash, you get a lot of flare and can overexpose the photo (just like shooting directly into the sun). But sometimes that flare is the look you’re going for, as seen in some of the below examples. You can also have some fun with flour/talcum powder/bubbles/water/etc by throwing it up in the air in front of the flash. Experiment and play around – the results can sometimes be amazing! (Sidenote: If you’re reading this and don’t have a flash, you can always backlight using the sun or a flashlight or even car headlights!)


Another great way to have a lot of fun is to use coloured gels/cellophane to play with the colours of the light. You can get cheap ones on eBay for $5-$10 for a set of 20 or so different colours. The whitish-blue light that comes out of a flash is a bit boring in my opinion, and I personally almost never use a bare flash without some sort of coloured gel on it.

251 - Self-Consumption
251 – Self-Consumption

In the above photo, there’s a blue-gelled flash aimed at the walls, and an orange flash aimed at me (some of it also spilling over onto the walls on the right side of the photo). Some more examples of playing with the colours of the flashes:


And as mentioned earlier, you can even use cardboard tubes (or anything cylindrical) as a “snoot” to concentrate the light into a small area, giving a sort of spotlight effect. Or you can use a Flashbender (or just a piece of cardboard taped to the flash) to block light from going in a certain direction – useful if you want to have the flash hit your subject but not spill onto the wall behind them.

109 - Atmosphere
109 – Atmosphere

In the above pic you can actually see the cardboard tube I’ve used to concentrate the light. Some other examples:


Hopefully that’s given you a few ideas you might want to try out yourself – have fun and experiment! Flash photography is insanely fun and it opens up a huge number of doors and gives you a lot of freedom when taking photos. And it’s not all that expensive if you buy one cheap flash to start with and build up your collection, if you so desire.

Next time around, I’ll go into even more creative ways you can play with both flash and even natural lighting, including gobos, hard and soft light and more!

And as always, if you have any questions or want me to go into more details on how I made a particular photo, feel free to ask! If you’ve got some examples of your own creative flash photography, I’d love to see ’em – drop a link in the comments below!

– Andy


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