Using an off camera flash can do so much to improve the quality of a photo, yet it’s underutilized. The reason may stem from fear, maybe it’s misunderstood, or maybe photographers don’t want to cart one around. Regardless of the rationale, if you don’t use flash, you should. If you do own one, wipe off the dust and install a fresh set of batteries. It can provide a source of fill light, it can illuminate dark interiors, it can be a main light, or it can be used for many other situations that cry out for auxiliary luminosity. If you’re serious about your photography, and it’s obvious you are considering that you’re reading this, take the plunge, get yourself a good flash and get the flash off the camera.
Flash is used off camera for many reasons. Direct light from a hot shoe-mounted flash is flat and unflattering. It produces a harsh look with little modeling. If your subject is close to a background, it produces awkward shadows. Onboard flash also creates specular highlights on shiny objects behind the subject. They’re bright and create distractions. Objects that can cause them are glossy wood finishes, windows, mirrors, shiny metal, glazed porcelain, etc. You get the idea—there are many potential surfaces that aren’t friendly to direct light from a hot-shoe-mounted flash. But, if you get the flash off the camera, it can be aimed in a way that minimizes reflections, eliminates background shadows and prevents distractions.
Many of the current middle and higher end DSLRs have wireless remote flash capability. The pop-up flash built into the camera acts as a trigger to fire off camera flashes. The off-camera flash becomes the remote while the pop-up flash becomes command central and provides messages on how to trigger the remote units. If your camera has this capability, refer to your manual to see how to make this happen. Each system has its own nuances, and the HOW TO aspect of this part is beyond the scope of this short Tip of the Week. Don’t be frightened. Go into the menu on the back of the camera to tell the built-in flash to work as the commander. It’s an easy process. That flash will now act as a transmitter to fire the remote flash you have off camera. In order for the two to “talk” to each other, the off-camera flash has to be placed into remote mode. This, too, is a simple process. Once the two are set up, every time you fire the shutter, the built-in flash fires the remote. As long as the remote can “see” the burst from the transmitter, the off-camera flash triggers.
Used properly, the viewer won’t be able to detect the use of flash. It takes trial and error to know where to aim the strobe to produce the best results. When dealing with reflective surfaces, know that flash will bounce at an angle that’s opposite from the angle where it’s aimed. Rather than aim it directly at a reflective surface, start with it aimed 45 degrees to the to left or right. The reflection will bounce 45 degrees in the opposite direction and not become a distraction. Make some test shots and check the LCD for the results. Once you master a single off-camera flash, think about adding additional units to light the background, to use as a fill source or as an accent. Take the plunge and get started. The quality of your pictures will go up exponentially.
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