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on Aug 9, 2011 in Wildlife Photography

The Direction of Light – Flash

Just because you own a flash and seen a video doesn’t make you a flash photographer. I sat in what seem like thousands of classes on flash, from college to present and while I understand and kinda feel like I know flash, I know that what I’m seeing made to look so simple on the screen, isn’t! I’ve seen and worked with even more who have taken the same class and walked outside, turned on their flash and then have a blank look on their face. My first “flash” teacher back in ’78 told me something I share with everyone I’m teaching flash to. “You can only learn flash when you’re working with flash.” You might get ideas, concepts, have your creative juices charged in a class or watching a video and that’s great! But it’s not until you take the canned light and blast it on something do you start to understand it’s not as easy as it appeared in class. And just why the hell is that?

The MAIN problem photographers have with flash is, they don’t know light. We pull out flash the majority of the time simply because there is a deficiency in the light. There is either not enough or the quality isn’t what we need to tell our visual story. Without understanding that key component of photography, light, just throwing a flash in the hot shoe isn’t going to solve your problems. More then likely, it will make the worst. Taking a que from my book Captured (really a must own if you wanna learn light), is this photo of an Allen’s Hummingbird. Look at the direction of the light. It’s backlit so without flash (flash fill) the hummer and flower would be all black. The background which is an important element in the photo would also be gone. The last thing that would have been lost is the gorget, the bright red throat (it’s an immature so it’s not too bright). To bring that out flash was required. You might be looking at the flash set up and asking yourself, “You need that many flash units?” To find out the whole story you need to check it out in Captured, but I was shooting in FP – High Flash Sync mode to use a high shutter speed and fast flash duration to freeze everything in the photo. And you might be saying you don’t own that many flash units so it’s a pointless read. You can rent them and if you don’t push yourself in your “free” hours, you’ll never be able to use flash when you have to.

To emphasize my point, here’s the first photo in a series I started 10months ago. Having flash filled the Queen Mary while fireworks went off in the background and other large objects back in my youth, having practiced flash a bit since, I felt like starting a new project for myself. We had luxury of time, workspace and a shit load of gear and yet, when push came to shove on this first outing, I feel I went down in flames! It’s a backlit subject, not much different then the hummer other then there is a slight size difference. Still working with small flash (SB-900 on