The Digital Photo Guy

More Flash Tips

by on Nov.07, 2010, under gear, Monday Morning Tips, Workshops

Multiple Flashes & Bounce Flash

Everyone knows the dreaded “red eye” is caused by light from the flash entering the eyes thru the pupils and reflecting off the blood vessels of the retina. The primary way to avoid this is to use an external flash that offsets the flash from the center of the lens, in other words, don‘t use the pop-up flash. Another is to have subjects look at a ceiling or table lamp for a few seconds, causing the pupils to constrict and reduce the amount of light entering the eye. A third trick is asking subjects to look slightly off to one side to reduce the angle at which light can enter and exit the eye. These tips work well with compact digicams with integrated flashes that aren’t very powerful and can’t be removed from the camera. They also work with dSLRs but aren’t always convenient. A small child or pet isn’t likely to take directions too well and candid photos aren’t candid if you ask subjects to pose in a specific way.

The following photos were made today using the Canon 7D pop-up flash as a Master in a 3 flash set up which I’ll cover in the Flash Photography Workshop this coming Saturday.



A Canon 550EX shooting into a 36″ umbrella was the key light. It was always camera left and about 6’6″ high. A Canon 420EX was used as a hair light either behind or slightly to the left. I couldn’t find my snoot (it was exactly where I always keep it) so I had problems controlling the spill over. The integrated pop-up flash was the fill and I kept it dialed down.

With dSLRs, you have lots of external flash choices but, for amateurs, it’s best to stay with dedicated flashes that are designed to work with the camera’s flash circuitry. At the very least, you’ll know that flash trigger voltage is compatible with your camera and won’t fry the innards. This is an old list that only applies to Canon EOS dSLRs but it has enough information to give you pause about slapping an old Metz Mecablitz from your film days or cheesy Sunpak on your brand-spanking new Canon 7D.

Regardless of which flash unit you have, there’s more to flash photography than just aiming the flash at the subject and blasting away. I know some of you won’t be able to see clear differences now but, as you gain more experience, you’ll see why direct flash is the worst kind of lighting. It results in what’s commonly called “deer in the headlights” look and isn’t very flattering. Direct flash (flash aimed at the subject) results in unflattering hot-spots and harsh shadows. Every pore and blemish is emphasized and the image looks “flat”.

To avoid these issues, the greatest flash invention has been tilt/swivel heads. By tilting the flash head up toward the ceiling, light is spread over a wider area. This results in softer, more diffuse light that flatters the subject. Bounce flash works best with a low, white ceiling. If the ceiling is too high or colored, the head can be swiveled toward a white, nearby wall.

But, wait! There’s more. Everyone buys 1 flash unit because that’s how it’s always been done. Well, with 2 flashes, you can do some pretty impressive photography. You may recall that a flash photo is actually 2 photos in 1. With 2 flashes, the main flash exposes the subject and a 2nd flash is the fill. The second flash doesn’t have to be anything fancy as long as it can be triggered remotely by the main flash. With Canon, a 420EX will do nicely. Other 3rd party flashes can be triggered with optical slave triggers which work by detecting the main flash. At the workshop, we’ll concentrate on Canon E-TTL systems as well as Manual Mode using cheap, 3rd party flashes.


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