Flash photography made easy: master it all from pop-up flash to multiple flashguns

Advanced techniques made simple


We share our best tips for shooting flash photography in any situation. The advice here should cover you whether you're using your built-in pop-up flash or an expensive flashgun.

In this tutorial we'll also show you simple flash photography techniques for banishing shadows with your pop-up flash; how to bounce a flash to diffuse the light; how to master advanced off-camera flash techniques; and how to get creative with multiple flashguns.

Flash photography made easy: master it all from pop-up flash to multiple flashguns

Flash photography isn't just a back-up for shooting in low-light conditions; it's an art form in its own right. Just because there's a plethora of swanky new DSLRs hitting the market with exceptionally high ISOs that make it possible to shoot in virtual darkness, flash photography isn't dead - in fact it's very much alive and kicking.

Although you might feel daunted by the prospect of mastering flash photography and confused by pro jargon such as rear curtain sync, flash exposure and remote triggers, it really isn't as complicated as it might at first seem.

In this series, we'll explain everything you need to know about flash photography, so you can create beautifully lit and well-crafted images in any shooting situation.

Over the following pages we'll take you step by step through some basic flash photography techniques, before sharing a few pro secrets that will encourage you to get more creative with light.

Whether you're using your on-camera pop-up flash to eliminate shadows from your portraits or using a more complex multiple off-camera flash photography technique to achieve modern, arty effects, you'll be amazed at the difference a little flash light can make to your shots.

Find your way around a flashgun

Flash Photography: find your way around a flashgun

01 Mode selector
Much like your DSLR, most flashguns come with several modes, from manual to fully automatic, such as TTL (through the lens) metering.

02 Rotating head
The head of a flashgun can be rotated up or down, left or right. This allows you to control the direction of the light when using flash creatively - bouncing light, for example.

03 Zoom
You can use the zoom function on a flashgun to alter the spread of light. In most cases the flash will calibrate itself to the lens you have mounted on your camera.

04 Remote trigger
Some flashguns have a remote trigger function that enables you to fire more than one flashgun simultaneously.

05 Hotshoe adaptor
This is the mechanism that connects your flashgun to your camera. Ensure that it's locked in the correct position before you start shooting.

06 Charge light
It might take several seconds for your flash to fully recharge between your shots. Look out for the 'fully-charged' light, and in some cases a beep, which will ensure your flash fires at full power for every shot you take.

Master fill-in flash

Use your pop-up flash to fix ugly shadows...

Master fill-in flash

With fill-in flash

Fill-in flash is one of the easiest flash techniques to master, and one that will instantly give your shots a pro edge. Best of all, you can use your camera's in-built flash, so you don't need to buy any kit.

It might seem odd, but fill-flash is actually a technique best used in broad daylight - in fact, the brighter it is the more likely that you'll need to use it.

Master fill-in flash

Without fill-in flash

You might solicit some odd looks from non-photographers as you activate your flash in the bright sunlight, but they won't have realised your photographic brilliance!

Imagine you're shooting outdoor portrait photography in the midday light. Unless you're in an area of open shade, the chances are that the direct, bright sunlight will cause heavy shadows to fall on your subject's face. These can often be too harsh and unsightly, especially under the eyes.

It's easy to eliminate these shadows by activating the pop-up flash and using it to 'fill' areas of shadow. You could use a flashgun, but the pop-up will be powerful enough on most occasions and saves you carrying additional gear when you're out and about.

The majority of DSLRs have a flash compensation function, very similar to the Exposure Compensation feature, and this can be used to alter the intensity of the flash.

You'll find that in extremely bright situations you may need to add extra power by dialling-in plus one or more stops of flash compensation. This can also have the effect of darkening the background of your scene, which can add drama to your shot.