camera flash tutorial

Camera flash tutorial

starting this camera flash tutorial – using the flash proves to be a challenge for many photographers. This comes from the fact the flash is too fast for the human eye to capture safely the amount and light produced during an exposure. It takes a significant amount of trials and errors to understand how that works and what you need to do to be in control. It is difficult to explain how to use your flash. You need to experiment it for yourself but there are few things to be mentioned as general considerations

There are few setting you need to be able to control on your flash gun:

  1. ETTL setting – or E-TTL stands for “Evaluative through the lens”. What that means is that the Flash mounted on the camera (and hopefully they are compatible and talk to each other) is taking into consideration the camera is reading the distance and how much light is there on the subject. This information is communicated to the flash which will decide how much light it will generate to reach the subject and fill in for a correct exposure. This would be OK during the day when the flash is used just to fill in the strong shadows on someone face in full sun. Also the flash needs to be directed towards the subject. If the subject is in a low light level situation, the flash will compensate the lack of light and it will generate enough direct light on the subject for a correct exposure. The problem with this approach is that fact that the subject will be directly lit and that is always creating strong frontal light, strong contrast with harsh shadows.

As a general rule, to get good quality pictures, is never to direct the flash towards the subject, but on any surface to reflect and diffuse the light back on the subject. For example the ceiling is always a good choice to direct the flash to, as it will spread the light bouncing back onto the subject with a much wider light reflective surface. As you can imagine using the ETTL setting won’t help much as the camera will read the subject distance and lighting level but it will never know how high and how white the ceiling is.

  1. Manual setting. This means that the Flash gun will produce a specific amount of light regardless of the camera settings. The amount of light is measured form 1/1 full power incrementally decreased ½,  1/4, 1/8 , down to 1/128.  I always use the full power choice as the more light I have, the better result I get, faster shutter speed , small aperture and lower ISO. The disadvantage of this choice is the fact the flash uses a lot of power and it takes time to recharge and it won’t be long until your flash slows down and it can let you down in moments where you need light. As a measure to make sure you get enough power is to purchase an additional battery pack that will increase the duration for one set of batteries with an increase degree of reliability.

Another way of mitigating this issue is to decrease the power of the flash to ½ or ¼, and increase the ISO and modify the settings to suit. Of course this choice needs proper consideration depending on your circumstances

How much light you need by using the flash? There is no generic answer for this. What I do is take few test shots and see  the result, and modify the camera settings to suit.

As a professional wedding photographer, I had to master this technique as there is always a need to shoot in very low light conditions for extended periods of time during a reception where there is never enough light for a decent exposure.

If your flash has also a bounce card you can always use it for fill shadows, when the flash is directed towards the ceiling

These 2 settings are the basic ones that you need to worry about. For a more in depth review of other flash settings and uses, I will dedicate a separate article

Just to mention that flash can create spectacular results when used properly, such as:

–       Stroboscopic effect when one subject is captured several times in different positions during one exposure

–       First curtain or second curtain synchronization for long exposures where you can capture light trails of a moving subject and capture only one position

–       Wireless flash or synchronized several flashes, off camera, when subject is at a distance and flash lights are in a strategic position. This is always spectacular and different when used properly

There will be several articles covering flash use in various circumstances such as day light flash use for portraits.


About Christian Tudor

professional photographer, main editor at Academy of Photography and