The post below comes to you from David Hobby. We are very thankful to have him share his expertise with our readers. David, has had a 20-year career as a photojournalist, and is the author of a very popular blog called Strobist with 170,000 readers from around the world. Without any further adieu:
Get That Thing Off of Your Camera
As photographers, we learn to see light. We notice light when it is interesting. And we always try to make photos in interesting light. And neat light almost always looks so good because it strikes the subject from somewhere other than from the direction of the camera.
Seriously, can you imagine how boring the world would look if we always walked around viewing everything with the sun directly behind us? And yet, so many photographers – especially beginners – tend to keep their flashes attached to their cameras. This effectively rules out creating interesting, directional light.
When you light from “on-camera,” your flash is very good at revealing detail, but it is very bad at revealing form. Essentially, you are using light about as creatively as a Xerox machine does. On-camera light is great for making an accurate record, but very poor at creating an interesting image of your subject.
Whether you are shooting to make money, or shooting to preserve memories of your friends and family, one of the best things you can do for yourself to improve your photography is to learn how to control light by using off-camera flash.
I spent 20 years as a professional photojournalist. And somewhere along the way I learned the value of a small, hot-shoe flash placed somewhere other than on the camera.
Lighting coming from somewhere else creates shadows. And shadows give a three-dimensional quality to your subject. A couple of years ago, I started teaching other photographers how to light, for free, at Strobist.com. To date, over two million photographers have benefitted from the over 1,000 articles posted there on how to use your small flashes more effectively.
Today, I would like to share three, simple, one-flash photos from my family album — and how they were made — in the hopes of getting you to think about getting your flash off of your camera, if you haven’t already done so.
I photographed my son, Ben, in the hallway of our house using a small flash (a Nikon SB-800) connected to my Nikon D300 with an SC-17 off-camera TTL flash cord. This preserves the TTL metering of my camera and flash, and lets me create more interesting light by changing its position relative to the camera.
I stuck the flash in a small soft box, a LumiQuest Soft Box III, which is very portable, inexpensive and folds flat at about 8×9 inches. Camera in left hand, flash in right hand, everything on full auto.
Shooting through an old plastic lens from a “toy” camera added a nice, soft effect to the image.
I photographed my daughter during one of her late-night Harry Potter binges by taking a moment to place the flash in the opened book itself. This reflected off of the pages, turning the book into a soft light source which also illuminated the canopy around her bed.
I could have used bounce flash, but all of the cool atmosphere would have been gone. Today’s cameras and flashes can communicate wirelessly and maintain TTL exposure, too. So even if you are not comfortable with manual flash, that is no excuse for not getting your light in the right spot to make a cool photo.
Parents at Sunset
For the upcoming 50th Anniversary of my parents’ first date, I wanted to make a special portrait at the lake home to which they have retired in Florida.
The tiki hut pictured in the photo has no light in it. But that was a natural place to stick a small flash — along with an orange “CTO” gel to allow the flash to simulate a tungsten light bulb.
I think the light coming from the inside of the hut adds a lot of dimension to the photo. And it also allows me to balance the exposure on my parents to that of the sunset. It also adds a feel of realism to the photo that no on-camera flash could have possibly done.
Now, You Try It
If you have ever wanted to learn how to use your flashes like a pro, there has never been a better time than now. Professionals are publishing websites and keeping blogs designed just to share this knowledge and expand the boundaries of your photography.
And for the most part, it is all free. You can join us at Strobist.com, where anyone, of any age or skill level can learn the basics of off-camera flash in no time.