The Digital Photo Guy

Flash JBOTs (Just a Bunch of Tips)

by on Sep.04, 2011, under gear, Monday Morning Tips, Webcast, Workshops

Fun with Flash

Most hobbyist photographers never take full advantage of all the bells and whistles in their fancy external flash, aka Canon Speedlite or Nikon Speedlight (I guess Nikon has a better spell checker!) Here are three things you might do with your flash.

A Canon 550EX and Canon 7D was used for all these photos but this can be done with most any modern digital camera and flash. Caveat: most advanced features are only available on dedicated flashes (made by the camera maker.)

Bounce the Light: If you’re just blasting light straight ahead, you may as well get closer and use the pop-up flash on your camera. Of course, with the greater power of an external flash, you might be able to get some really cool redeye effects. To soften the light and cast shadows that add depth, texture and character to your photos, bounce the light off a (low) ceiling or a handy wall. The bounce surface should be white to reduce odd color casts unless you’re into that look!

The flash in the first photo below was bounced off the 10 foot ceiling in my office while the second photo was with the 550EX pointed directly at the subject. Notice the harsh shadow directly behind the subject. Regardless of whether the subject is 6 inches or 6 feet tall, there will always be a harsh shadow. The bounced photo has a soft shadow that is less objectionable. If the subject is 6 ft tall, the shadow will be barely perceptible. For small subjects/objects, read on for a tip near the bottom.


2nd Curtain for Motion Effects: Many people have read or heard about 2nd curtain sync but haven’t quite figured out the purpose. In the default 1st curtain setting, the flash fires as soon as the shutter opens. This is usually of no consequence when the shutter speed is brief (<1/30 second) or the subject is static. However, if the shutter speed is >1/30 second, subject movement may show unnatural aberrations.

The first photo below shows a moving car captured with 1st curtain. The flash fired as soon as the shutter opened so the body of the car is to the left of the frame while the headlights extend forward as if the car was firing photon torpedoes. In the second photo, setting 2nd curtain caused the flash to fire just before the shutter closes. Now, the headlight trails are behind the car, a more natural image. These were handheld since the crowded sidewalk wasn’t conducive to deploying a tripod and I actually like the blurred lights. For a more traditional 2nd curtain image of automobile light trails, use a tripod and a stronger flash output.


Freeze Frames: This last photo is an example of Multi or stroboscopic flash where the flash is fired repeatedly at a set rate. In this photo, the Canon 550EX was set to fire at 4 times per second. The camera was set to 2 second shutter timer and the toy was released shortly after the timer was tripped. As the toy swung in front of the camera, the shutter opened for 1 second and the flash fired 4 times.

Now, remember in the first part where I described bounce? The small size of the subject showed a large, albeit soft, shadow. Here’s a previous Monday Morning Tip where I describe using Multi Mode to produce small product shots without a shadow.



Photography Classes at Palomar College

Did you know you can register for my Palomar College classes regardless of where you live? Even if you’re in Moosebreath, Montana, you can attend my classes via webinar. Check out Digital SLR for New dSLR Owners on Tuesday and Thursday, September 13 and15 from 7PM to 8:30PM Pacific Time or Photoshop Elements for Digital Photographers on Tue/Thu, Oct 11 and 13 at the same time. All you need is a PC or Mac, high-speed Internet and $59. Register today to get the most out of your digital photography.


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