Let’s face it, there are enough variables within the camera itself to remember. Suddenly adding a flash to the mix has the potential to confuse the issue still further. Shooting with a flash shouldn’t be scary or overly-complicated but there are some basic skills that, once learned, will help demystify flash photography and make it an enjoyable, rewarding and creative experience.
When the shutter opens, the camera records any ambient light as well as the illumination provided by the flash. Now, depending on your settings, environment and flash output, the amount of ambient light may be very noticeable or barely perceptible. If you shoot indoors in a dark room it stands to reason that the amount of ambient light will be low or non-existent and the illumination for that scene will come from the flash only, unless you alter your shutter speed to an extremely long exposure setting.
However, shutter speed does not affect the flash output during the exposure as it delivers the flash instantaneously. As an example, if you take a shot at 1/60 of a second, the flash will fire within that 1/60 period but the actual flash duration is an extremely brief 1/1000 of a second or faster – if you keep all your flash and camera settings the same but just change your shutter speed to 1/30 of a second, it will still have no impact on your flash output but you will have recorded more ambient light. With flash, you have some options about how to light your subject.
First and foremost, the flash head will be able to rotate and swivel which means you could try bouncing the light from your flash off a ceiling or a nearby wall if indoors. Your flash emits its light which spreads out and illuminates your ceiling or other flat surface, creating a much larger pool of light which in return bounces back into the room to illuminate your subject in a much softer light. Shadows will not be as harsh and ‘red-eye’ is eliminated.
One thing to bear in mind is that your light has had further to travel so it’s original power will be diminished. You can adjust for that by using FEC (flash exposure compensation). You can dial up the power of your flash, usually in 1/2 or 1/3 stop increments to allow for the fall-off in light as it bounces around before hitting your subject. If needs be, you can dial it down in the opposite direction as well. Most new flashes can let you use up to 2-3 stops of FEC.
The key with flash photography is not just to be able to get the shot – but to understand how you got the shot. Tutorials are a great place to start but can’t replace the experience of actually getting out there and taking shots. In addition, I thoroughly recommend a visit to the Strobist website. It is a gathering place for everyone involved in flash photography. They have great resources and information to suit all tastes.