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3 Reasons to Control your Flash and 10 ways to do It

3 Reasons to Control your Flash and 10 ways to do ItThere are many different ways to alter the light coming out of your pop-up and external flash units and many different reasons you might want to do it. Personally, I hate the look of the pop-up flash and even the Speedlite when it’s aimed square-on at my subject and am always looking for ways to get around using them altogether.

{Reasons to alter your flash}

  1. To create catchlights
  2. To diffuse the harshness of the default burst of light
  3. To maintain ambiance in the environment where you’re shooting. For example, as soon as you introduce a flash into a lovely party atmosphere, the ambiance gets sucked right out of the room.

{Ways to alter & control your flash}

  1. First and foremost, the most obvious and cheapest (free) way to fiddle with your flash is to turn the strength down. On an external flash, you can dial down the strength if you just need to introduce a little added light and not a full-powered burst. Play with that and see where it takes you.
  2. You can bounce your external flash off of nearby ceilings or walls. This will spread the light and change the direction from which it is coming.
  3. Lots of photographers do the business card trick to create catchlights in their subject’s eyes and many newer external flashes now come with a catchlight panel attached. But this doesn’t do anything to diffuse or lessen the strength and it doesn’t effect the spread of light. Just know what tricks do what so you can choose what to employ for each different scenario. And incase you don’t know what I mean, the ‘business card trick’ is where you use a rubber band to attach a white business card to the top of your flash unit to create little white reflections (catch lights) in your subject’s eyes. Like this.
  4. A third thing I often read about is placing a tissue over the flash. I’m sorry, but…a tissue? I’m gonna get hate for this, but let’s be sensible. If the flash was so weak that a little teeny weeny tissue would make a difference, I wouldn’t be writing this post. Just sayin. I’ll say it again: when you need to be sure that your flash is adding to your scene, not taking away from it, you’re looking for ways to change the direction, lessen the intensity and/or alter the spread of the light coming from your flash. A tissue ain’t gonna do it.
  5. External flashes often have clear(ish) little screens that can pop out of the unit and down over the bulb. This is called a ‘built-in wide panel’ and is used to widen the range of the light coming from the Speedlite. Contrary to popular thought, it is not a diffuser and is meant to be used with super wide angle lenses (up to 15mm when used on a Canon Speedlite 580ex, for example). This means that the flash won’t just focus on the center of the image.
  6. In researching different methods for this post, I discovered these little reflector gizmos which look like a pretty decent way to command some more control over your on camera flash.
  7. Lastolite makes a lot of really cool, affordable, gadgets and gizmos for fiddling with your external flash. Personally, I’ve played with their Speedlite beauty dish and I have two Ezyboxes for off camera flash. I’ve found them to be a great way to experiment with my Speedlite without breaking the bank.
  8. I mentioned this next alternative in my last post about photographing indoors (the comments are what sparked my idea for this post). Lightscoop. I want it to stick in your head as the numero uno best way to reign in your pop up flash indoors. The Lightscoop fixes all manner of pop up sins and is surprisingly cheap in price, but not in quality. When I take mine to a party or event, everyone wants to have a go – it’s made me the most popular gal at many’a party.
  9. One other method for your pop-up flash is a diffuser like this one which attaches to your hotshoe and wraps around. Some people may find it exciting to construct accessories like these on their own.
  10. Lastly, it’s important that when shooting with a flash in manual mode, you make sure to have the white balance set for flash, especially if you’re shooting JPEG and have limited control on the temperature after the photo has been taken. A flash gives a cool color temperature so setting your WB to ‘flash’ will add a bit of warmth to your scene. If you’re shooting in auto, this will take care of itself but if not, don’t forget to check your settings before you start shooting.

So that’s all, folks! I know there’s an abundance of further ways to get the results explained above so please share your own tips and tricks below.

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Elizabeth Halford
Elizabeth Halford

is a photographer and advertising creative producer in Orlando, FL. She wrote her first article for dPS in 2010. Her most popular one racked up over 100k shares!

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