Photography Lighting: how to take control of everything from natural light to flash

Using flash to cope with challenging lighting conditions

In our final section we explain simple techniques for using flash to take control of your lighting environment.

Unlike other lights, where you can see the effect of the position of any modifiers such as diffusers or reflectors, you can't see the results with flash until you take a shot.

Flash doesn't have to be scary, particularly if you are now familiar with how the direction of natural light affects your shots.

The quality of the light from most flashguns will be a little harsher than the light from your average reading lamp, so you still need to do some test shots with your own kit, but the basic principles of the quality and direction of light are the same, no matter what type of light source you use.

Using a flash fired directly at the subject as the main light source is almost guaranteed to put you off using flash for life.

Used like this the flash works as a tiny point of light producing harsh, unflattering, high-contrast light.

You need to soften this light by making it appear to be much larger to the subject to make it more photogenic.


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Soften the light from your flash

Best Flash Diffuser: 01 LumiQuest Softbox III

There are a number of accessories that will soften the light from your flash. The first are accessories such as a softbox or umbrella that soften the light by making the light source much bigger.

Meanwhile the second type - clip-on diffusers, for example - produce softer light by spreading the light from the flash so that more of it reaches the subject having been reflected off objects around you.

Finally, remember it's the size of the light source in relation to the subject that affects the quality of the light.

So, even using a softbox or umbrella, the closer the flash is to the subject, the softer the light will be, and the further away, the more harsh.

Try looking at the light from the subject's perspective; if you have a flash with a softbox attached that's 50x50cm square, this will look huge if it's 50cm away from you.

But move it 5m away and it looks hardly bigger than a bare flashgun. The further away the flash, the larger the diffuser needs to be to give a softer light.

Your remote flash options (infographic)

If you want to take more control over the light, using remote flash is one of the best techniques you can use. In our infographic below we show you three popular options for doing this.

Click on the infographic to see the larger version, or drag and drop it to your desktop.

Your remote flash options (photography infographic)


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How to use flash triggers

How to use flash triggers: step 1

1 Position your flash
Most receivers have a tripod mount underneath so that you can attach it to a standard tripod. If you want to achieve a softer light you should also attach a flash diffuser or softbox at this point, as it will affect the exposure you need.

How to use flash triggers: step 2

2 Set the flash power
Set the flash to manual, and then use the power controls to set this to a level appropriate for the distance from the flash. Many flashguns have a display on the back to clearly indicate all the power, distance and aperture settings that you're using.

How to use flash triggers: step 3

3 Check the exposure
With your camera in Manual, set the aperture to the value on the flashgun's display. Take a test shot, and if it's too dark use a larger aperture (or move the flash closer). If it's too light use a smaller aperture (or move the flash further away).


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