Color & Light
Meeting Photo Challenges
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Creating Better Photographics
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Light & Exposure
Close-Up & Macro
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Digital Photography Equipment
Off-Camera Flash; Controlling The Direction Of Light
On-camera flash has a bad reputation—and for good reason. In fact, many photographers are turned off to using flash altogether because they don’t like the look of pictures taken when the flash is sitting on the camera. The images look flat, dimensionless, and many subjects look “pasty” with this kind of lighting. The photo of the young Balinese dancer (#1) is an example. Even though I like the shot, the lighting is not artistic or special in any way, and the girl’s face seemingly has no depth to it. The same is true for the Kathakali dancer from India, (#2). He was a remarkable subject, but the flat lighting is not very inspiring. No matter the subject, on-camera flash produces the same kind of two-dimensional light as you can see again in the picture of a Jackson’s chameleon, (#3).
On-camera flash is very convenient. It’s simple to use especially when using it in Automatic mode, and it’s available at a moment’s notice to light up a dark scene. Without the flash, the high ISO settings you would be forced to use would degrade the quality of your pictures.
The solution to these problems is simple. Take the flash off the camera and use it to the side, behind the subject, or at some angle to the lens axis. This will immediately address the issues I’ve just mentioned. In addition, it adds artistry to the composition that makes all the difference in the world.
Now compare photos (#5 and #6). The picture of the two models was taken with an on-camera flash and it’s not bad. The color is good, I like the composition, and the background being darker than the subject works for me. However, the lighting on the two people is flat and commonplace. The picture of the model in blue and white, on the other hand, is dramatic. I had a friend hold the flash off to the side at about an 80˚ angle to the lens axis. The edge lighting separates the model from the sunrise background and gives this picture a great deal of dimension. This is one of my favorite pictures from Venice simply because of the side lighting. I fired the flash wirelessly with Canon’s ST-E2 wireless trigger.
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