Saturday, January 30, 2010

Flash done right

Today's DSLR's are better than ever at managing flash exposures. Whether the flash is your primary source of light or being used as a fill light source, things are getting easier and better all the time because of the increasingly sophisticated flash exposure algorithms used in each new generation of cameras.

However, even with these advances, taking flash photography to the next level and truly achieving expert results can be difficult. I say this with the goal in mind of achieving a "perfectly" balanced combination of flash and existing light in a flash photograph (with "perfectly" being a somewhat subjective term).

Sometimes I’ll take a flash picture and apply some of my knowledge about managing the way flash works and come away with an awesome picture that leaves me feeling pretty good. Then the very next shot will be less than optimal because I was in a rush or forgot something or let the camera make a bad decision for me. Such is the demon of electronic flash...

I’ve been on a mission lately to learn some additional techniques to get more consistent and effective flash photos. Practice, practice, practice. Clearly, the photographer needs to take over (and always will need to take over) to achieve the best results by controlling what the camera is doing with flash and how it's doing it, instead of leaving it to its automated modes.

I’ve found three fantastic aids in my effort to handle flash more effectively:

1) Neil van Niekerk's "Tangents" web site at:

2) Neil van Niekerk's book called "On-Camera Flash" available at book stores and Amazon.

3) The "Flash Photography with Canon EOS Cameras" web site

Neil's web site is a treasure trove of flash and exposure articles and expert guidance to achieve better results very quickly. Neil takes a straight forward and practical approach and fills his articles with useful examples to drive his lessons home. As an example, here's a link to his "Top 20 List of Flash Photography Tips".

Neil's book was worth every penny. It takes the best concepts from his web site and expands on them with new writings and plenty of examples. He often uses multiple examples to drive home the same point and this is an effective technique because one of them is sure to resonate with the reader and stick in their head. Note that this book is written in the context of wedding and portrait photography because that's Neil's profession, but the principles apply to any type of flash work.

The Canon EOS flash site is a slightly older resource but will definitely help all owners of Canon EOS cameras to understand what the hell their flash is doing when you seem to be getting confusing results. Reading that web site gave me many "Ah ha....." moments. The various Canon flash modes are doing different things at different times, and these pages clearly explain when and why.

In the near future, I will post some additional thoughts about #1 and #2 above that really stuck with me and immediately AND consistently improved my results. Stay tuned...

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