How To Understand The Flash

How To Understand The Flash

Using the flash is not easy to begin with. In fact flash photography can take time to learn. With time and practice and a solid understand of how the flash works you can create lovely photos for the years to come. The best use of the flash is to create a photo where it doesn’t even look like it’s been used. When you take a photo with flash it’s not a matter of point the flash towards the subject, it’s a matter of calculating light.

There are two “types” of flash. The first is built-in flash. This is where your flash is part of the compact camera. It works in auto mode when you fire the shutter. It does not have a setting whereby you can manually control the output (make it brighter or less intense). This comes on compact cameras and is easy to use.

Secondly we have an external flash unit. This is called a Speedlite (Canon). It is a single flash unit that you can attach to the camera or remove it from the camera. You can activate an external flash (get it to fire) even when it’s not on the camera. If you want another source of light you can change the direction of where this light comes from by removing it from the camera and placing it somewhere other than the camera.

The external flash unit has manual and auto mode. (Some have more). Think of your auto mode on your camera. Auto mode on the flash is very similar. It means that when you place the flash in auto mode it will calculate the light in the room and decide on an output to fire at. If it’s dark the flash won’t see much light and might decide to fire at maximum intensity. In other words the darker it is the flash will want to output a brighter flash. The opposite is true too. If there is a lot of light then the flash will only want to fire a small amount.

What about manual mode on the flash? Manual mode gives you the option of what the flash output will be. For example if auto simply isn’t discharging enough light you can change the output. Let’s take for example flash at full power. It will read 1/1 on your flash unit. This means it’s going to fire at maximum output (the brightest it can go). If you change your setting to 1/2 this means the flash will fire at half that intensity (half the brightness). If you want to only fire a small amount of light you can turn the flash output down to its minimum output of 1/64.

Think of manual mode as a dimmer switch. The more you decrease the numbers (1/1, 1/2, 1/4, 1/8 etc) the less light will come out of the flash. In other words, the smaller the fractions get the less light output you will have.

How do you know what flash output will correctly expose your photo? Easy! Use your light meter! When you take a reading with your light meter you are asking what the shutter speed and f stop should be to correctly expose your scene. When you want to correctly expose you’re the scene start by placing the flash in the desired position. Change your light meter setting from ambient light to flash. Press the button for the reading and fire the flash. It will then display the correct settings.

It’s as simple as that. :)


How To Understand The Flash

The wonderful thing about using flash in manual mode is that you do not have to alter your settings to reduce or increased the light. For example if the light meter displays F45 and 1/2000th of a second, and your camera does not go as high as F45, then you know the flash output is way to high. If you want to reduce the light by a stop, then you know that F22 will achieve that. In order to reach F22 you can simply change the output by one stop on the flash.

The flash works on the same principles as f stop, shutter speed and ISO. They all work on the principle of exposures or “stops”. If you want to decrease your flash output by a third of a stop you simply change the output by a third on the flash.

Sound complicated? It’s not really. In my up and coming ebook I have gone into much more detail about the flash, how to use it correctly and given you real examples of how to use it and what the effects are. I’ll show you more soon. So stay tuned.

About the Author

Amy is an multi-award winning photographer from Australia. She teaches enthusiast photographers how to take beautiful, professional photos in easy, plain English. She has a monthly photography emagazine and ebooks to help you create stunning images every time.

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  1. Kris says:

    Thanks Amy, excellent article!

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