Work­ing with flash often caus­es prob­lems and ques­tions, espe­cial­ly for begin­ners, espe­cial­ly for reportage shoot­ing. If, when shoot­ing a por­trait, there is time to twist the cam­era set­tings, exper­i­ment with the flash zoom and think, then at the wed­ding there will be no such oppor­tu­ni­ty to think. In this text, we will ana­lyze the sim­plest and most con­ve­nient flash meth­ods and schemes that are applic­a­ble in the field.

There are sit­u­a­tions when it is gen­er­al­ly impos­si­ble to shoot some­thing sen­si­ble with­out a flash. For exam­ple, danc­ing in a club / Pho­to: unsplash.com

How to shoot with flash in a hot shoe
Light schemes for on-cam­era flash in a hot shoe
How to choose set­tings when shoot­ing with flash
How to shoot with two exter­nal flash­es
How to put light on the pho­to­zone
How to film danc­ing at a wed­ding ban­quet
Shoot­ing with the built-in in-cam­era flash

Wed­ding pho­tog­ra­phers, club pho­tog­ra­phers, and oth­er reportage pro­fes­sion­als often use flash. In con­di­tions when you do not know in advance what kind of light will be in each par­tic­u­lar room, it is impos­si­ble to do oth­er­wise. Flash in a reportage is usu­al­ly used to:

  • add light in cas­es where it is com­plete­ly dark;
  • improve the light where it is unsuc­cess­ful (the lamps are strict­ly on top, the win­dow is behind the backs of the main char­ac­ters);
  • freeze move­ment.

One of the most con­ve­nient options for shoot­ing a reportage is to shoot with an exter­nal flash in a hot shoe. This is con­ve­nient in the sense that addi­tion­al racks are not need­ed, you can quick­ly move around with­out prob­lems and spend less time rebuild­ing light schemes. In addi­tion, to shoot in such a bun­dle, you do not need an addi­tion­al syn­chro­niz­er — only a cam­era and a flash.

Cam­era + flash on a hot shoe — the design is quite man­age­able and at the same time not too bulky / Pho­to: unsplash.com

It is best to use the flash of the same sys­tem you are shoot­ing with. This allows you to con­trol the flash set­tings direct­ly from the cam­era. You can also shoot, for exam­ple, on Fuji­film and use a flash for Canon. But all the set­tings will have to be set man­u­al­ly. Not New­ton’s bino­mi­al, but you have to keep extra num­bers in your head.

There are a num­ber of uni­ver­sal flash­es that will work with any sys­tem. For exam­ple, Yongn­uo Speedlite YN-560 IV — but in this case, the set­tings will have to be set man­u­al­ly.

The main advan­tage of shoot­ing with an exter­nal flash is the rotat­ing head. This is crit­i­cal if you want to shoot some­thing oth­er than these pic­tures:

The face of the pro­tag­o­nist is strong­ly over­ex­posed, the back­ground is drowned in dark­ness. The feel­ing of a snap­shot on a soap­box from the nineties / Pho­to: unsplash.com

Such pho­tos some­times have the right to life, at one time they were even in trend — just like a styl­iza­tion of the nineties. But if you need to shoot not a styl­iza­tion, but a decent por­trait in the inte­ri­or or danc­ing at a wed­ding, such pic­tures, of course, are per­ceived as a mar­riage.

Such light will be giv­en by an on-cam­era flash aimed direct­ly at the face of the pro­tag­o­nist. Such light has two prob­lems: very sharp shad­ows and the direc­tion itself. The light direct­ed at the fore­head of the pro­tag­o­nist turns the face into a pan­cake, devoid of any details.

Light schemes for on-camera flash in a hot shoe

The main trick that gives us a rotary flash head is the abil­i­ty to re-reflect light. For exam­ple, from the ceil­ing or from the wall. This allows you to cre­ate a soft­er and more pleas­ant light pat­tern. First­ly, due to the fact that the size of the lamp actu­al­ly increas­es many times over. In fact, the entire ceil­ing or the entire wall turns into a light source. Sec­ond­ly, it is an oppor­tu­ni­ty to redi­rect the light and make it more advan­ta­geous.

Light reflect­ed from the ceil­ing. Well fills not too big rooms.

In small rooms, the light from the ceil­ing works well — it fills the room with itself, cre­at­ing the feel­ing that there is no addi­tion­al light / Pho­to: unsplash.com

The light reflect­ed from the ceil­ing has two dis­ad­van­tages: it is quite bor­ing and it can inad­ver­tent­ly draw bruis­es under the eyes of peo­ple. Try to direct the flash so that the spot of light on the ceil­ing is between you and the main char­ac­ters. The light falling strict­ly from above is the main spon­sor of bruis­es, even for those who do not have them in life.

The prob­lem is that the light reflect­ed from the ceil­ing can pro­voke shad­ows from the eye­brows and from the low­er eye­lids. It looks some­thing like this:

On the left is a shot with light reflect­ed from the ceil­ing, on the right — with light reflect­ed from the wall, which is locat­ed on the left / Pho­to: digital-photography-school.com

Light reflect­ed from the wall. Anoth­er con­ve­nient option that allows you to eas­i­ly and quick­ly cre­ate soft and dif­fused side light in dynam­ic sit­u­a­tions.

Here the light is reflect­ed from the wall, which is to the left of the cou­ple. He cre­ates a calm but pro­nounced pat­tern on the main char­ac­ters of the scene / Pho­to: digital-photography-school.com

Impor­tant: when choos­ing what to reflect the flash from, con­sid­er the col­or of this sur­face. It is best to reflect off white. Any col­or will give the light a spu­ri­ous cast. And if light beige walls, most like­ly, will not do any­thing ter­ri­ble with pho­tographs, then bright green ones will def­i­nite­ly give faces unpleas­ant reflex­es. And by the way, it is very dif­fi­cult to get rid of them in post-pro­cess­ing.

Unre­flect­ed, direct light. It is used when the room as a whole is not too dark, but the light is indis­tinct. For exam­ple, in the same reg­istry office, chan­de­liers hang right over the heads of the new­ly­weds and draw them the same bruis­es that we talked about ear­li­er. In this case, it makes sense to use a flash aimed at their face. In this case, you should set the flash to min­i­mum pow­er to avoid over­ex­po­sure.

How to choose settings when shooting with flash

The sec­ond prob­lem that often comes up when shoot­ing with one flash is an over­ex­posed pro­tag­o­nist and an under­ex­posed back­ground. And here the mat­ter is not only and not so much in the direc­tion of the light. Of course, it’s eas­i­er to get a white face against a dark back­ground if you hit a per­son in the face with a flash, but the same effect can be achieved by reflect­ing light from a wall.

In prin­ci­ple, there is no cat­a­stroph­ic error in this pic­ture. But the peo­ple in the back­ground fade a lit­tle into the shad­ows. If you adjust the set­tings a lit­tle, this can be avoid­ed / Pho­to: unsplash.com

There­fore, when shoot­ing with a flash, it is impor­tant to remem­ber the bal­ance between the expo­sure of the object on which the light of the flash arrives and the back­ground.

Every­thing is good here. But imag­ine that the faces of peo­ple in the back­ground are drowned in shad­ows, and the pic­ture imme­di­ate­ly begins to pro­duce a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent impres­sion / Pho­to: unsplash.com

The prob­lem of an over­ex­posed fore­ground and a failed back­ground aris­es from the fact that many cam­eras by default fix the ISO val­ue at a min­i­mum when a flash is stuck in the hot shoe. Here, some cam­eras are doing a lit­tle bet­ter (for exam­ple, Nikon works well with automa­tion), oth­ers are a lit­tle worse. But in gen­er­al, this prob­lem exists.

To solve it, you need to man­u­al­ly set the set­tings that are suit­able for a par­tic­u­lar scene. The eas­i­est way to do this is to look at the scene with­out a flash, adjust the aper­ture and ISO so that the back­ground can be seen even with­out a flash, and only then add a flash.

The flash also has its own set­tings: pow­er and zoom. The pow­er of flash­es, as a rule, ranges from 1/1 to 1/64. The larg­er the val­ue, the stronger the impulse will be. In prac­tice, val­ues ​​from 1/4 to 1/16 are most often used in work. The eas­i­est and most con­ve­nient way is to imme­di­ate­ly set the flash to 1/8, and then add or sub­tract as need­ed.

The flash zoom is respon­si­ble for whether the beam of light will be nar­row or wide. The zoom is a fair­ly sub­tle thing, use­ful in stu­dio work. On the report, the zoom can be set to some neu­tral-aver­age val­ue. For exam­ple, 50 mm will do.

If the room is dark, open the aper­ture as much as pos­si­ble and raise the ISO val­ue to the max­i­mum val­ue, where the noise does not yet look crit­i­cal. If the room is too dark and the back­ground can­not be drawn out using the set­tings, then all that remains is to put up with it. Or shoot with two exter­nal flash­es.

To use two exter­nal flash­es, you will need syn­chro­niz­ers and a stand. Well, or instead of a stand, an assis­tant can work, who will hold the flash. In gen­er­al, it is bet­ter to have two stands at once, since some light­ing schemes imply that both flash­es stand on them.

When there are more than one out­breaks, they have their own roles. One source becomes draw­ing, the sec­ond, as a rule, either back­ground or fill­ing. If we return to the sit­u­a­tion when the back­ground falls into the shad­ows, and it can­not be pulled out by the cam­era set­tings, then this prob­lem can be solved in this way.

This pic­ture was tak­en in a very dark room. The key light here is on the top left — it illu­mi­nates the girl’s face. The sec­ond flash is also on the left a lit­tle behind the mod­el and shines on the back­ground, pre­vent­ing it from falling into the shad­ows.

Togeth­er, two light sources cre­ate a nice even­ly lit pic­ture / Pho­to: Alisa Smirno­va, Fotosklad.Expert

The same tech­nique can be used on a reportage: we put one flash on the stand so that it does not fall into the frame, we direct it to the back­ground. For greater con­ve­nience, you can direct it to the ceil­ing, slight­ly tilt­ing towards the back­ground. We either leave the sec­ond one on the cam­era in the hot shoe, or we also put it on the stand and direct it to the main char­ac­ters of the frame. You can work both on reflec­tion (from a wall or ceil­ing), and direct­ly. In this case, it is best to use a soft­box in addi­tion to make the light soft­er.

How to put light on the photozone

At some events, it takes some time to shoot guests in the pho­to zone. These scenes are also con­ve­nient to shoot with two flash­es. A fair­ly good result can be achieved by plac­ing one flash on a stand, point­ing it a lit­tle above and a lit­tle to the side. This will be the key light. It can be made espe­cial­ly good and thor­ough­bred using a soft­box and a crane stand.

The sec­ond flash should be set to min­i­mum pow­er and direct­ed frontal­ly at the pho­to zone and the faces of the par­tic­i­pants. This light is need­ed to knock out the shad­ows on the faces, mak­ing the over­all pic­ture soft­er. If there is too much light from this flash, you can send it to the ceil­ing in front of the pho­to zone.

Pic­tures in the pho­to­zone are an impor­tant part of reportage shoot­ing / Pho­to: Alisa Smirno­va, Fotosklad.Expert

In prin­ci­ple, you can work on the pho­to zone with­out fill light, but then care­ful­ly make sure that the painter does not make too sharp shad­ows on the faces. In this case, make the key light less up and more front. Then there are chances that it will turn out to sit on two chairs: get a good draw­ing and not lose the back­ground.

How to film dancing at a wedding banquet

If some­thing quite spon­ta­neous and unsys­tem­at­ic hap­pens (for exam­ple, danc­ing), the eas­i­est and most con­ve­nient option for arrang­ing two light sources is to put them on racks in two oppo­site cor­ners of the room and point them at each oth­er.

Con­sid­er­ing that cou­ples move around the hall and rotate and the pho­tog­ra­ph­er can also move and shoot from dif­fer­ent angles, with this approach there are chances to take a lot of good pic­tures in terms of light. At the same time, do not stress too much.

Here, one flash is in one cor­ner and illu­mi­nates the girl’s face, the sec­ond in the oppo­site — it cre­ates a small halo around the hair of her part­ner and high­lights the cou­ples in the back­ground / Pho­to: Alisa Smirno­va, Photosklad.Expert

To make shoot­ing dances more inter­est­ing, you can use col­or fil­ters. They tint the light of the flash­es in dif­fer­ent col­ors, cre­at­ing the effect of a dis­co light. Look good in a pair of orange and blue fil­ters, red and green.

Anoth­er impor­tant point about shoot­ing dances and oth­er fast-mov­ing things with flash­es. The flash­es them­selves make it eas­i­er to cap­ture motion: the pulse length “freezes” the motion and allows you not to sweat and shoot with­out smear­ing even at rel­a­tive­ly slow shut­ter speeds like 1/30.

But there is one caveat: this rule only works if the room is dark enough. This is easy to check: if the cam­era shoots Male­vich’s black square with­out flash­es, then there will be no prob­lems. If you can see some­thing with­out flash­es, you should choose a faster shut­ter speed. For danc­ing — at least 1/100. Oth­er­wise, you can get pic­tures like this:

Here the shut­ter speed is very long (1/15), it was used inten­tion­al­ly to achieve a sur­re­al effect / Pho­to: Alisa Smirno­va, Photosklad.Expert

But not always pho­tos with such an effect look appro­pri­ate. More­over, at a short­er shut­ter speed (1/50, for exam­ple), it will not look like sur­re­al smears, but like a slight­ly dou­bled image.

When can you use an in-cam­era flash? When you can’t do with­out it. Built-in flash­es do not have the abil­i­ty to adjust the pow­er, as a rule, there is no way to turn the head and redi­rect the light direc­tion. This makes work­ing with them some­what prob­lem­at­ic.

It is the in-cam­era flash that is the main spon­sor of pic­tures with the fla­vor of the nineties. It is worth using it when the plot is more impor­tant than tech­ni­cal­i­ty. When, for exam­ple, the gov­er­nor of your region is fight­ing a bear and obvi­ous­ly los­ing, and you are a cor­re­spon­dent for a local news­pa­per and you under­stand that the pic­ture will def­i­nite­ly go to the front page. And how thor­ough­bred light will be in this case is already the tenth thing.


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