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All About Flash [Book Review]

All About FlashIf there’s one thing that flummoxes many of us, it’s flash. Onboard or off camera.

Mark Cleghorn’s book gives away the techniques he’s learned over the course of nearly 30 years as a photographer, well-known in Europe and the US.

Beginning with a single on-camera flash effectively and creatively, then moving all the way up to four or more units in multiple wireless groups, he describes how to shoot the best images possible in a variety of situations.

He outlines the methods in minimising distracting details in an image with a single flash; he shows how to diffuse and spread the light by using a number of flash accessories; then, a method of illuminating the background with a second flash; described is an unusual ‘sandwich’ trick with two flash units pointing towards each other; finally, a method of establishing a basic studio set up on location using only three accessory flash units.

Some photographers begin sweating and shaking at the slightest talk of using flash. The trick is to use flash for the right reasons and with the right approach. The approach is to use it for the right reason, not out of habit!

Early on in the book a question is posed: is flash really necessary? Now that top end DSLR cameras can capture high quality images at high ISO settings, with fast lenses, image stabilisers and slow shutter speeds, we can shoot almost round the clock both outdoors and indoors.

Despite this benefit, you still need quality light of the right quality and appropriate strength pointed in the right direction. That is not to say that tonnes of light will answer the need.

As Cleghorn says: ‘I have always had to control the light in some way, whether to increase the amount to record an accurate skin tone, or perhaps to use a desired aperture setting to control the depth of focus.’ His underlying message is ‘control’. Which is right about where most budding, ambitious photographers go wrong.

Then, the question is posed: what is flash good for?

Most will use it as a fill light, which is arguably the best use of onboard flash illumination; this is optimised further if you can lower/lift the flash’s output.

Some will use flash as a key light, some will use it as a catch light for the eyes and others will deploy flash as means of separating the planes in a subject, to lift background information, create a mood of drama, add an accent or introduce modeling into the subject.

Then there are the special talents of flash that no other lighting can rival: one is to freeze motion, with or without the use of first or second shutter curtain sync.

Another use is to add light to a scene where there is no other light, by bouncing it off a wall or ceiling or by taking the flash off camera and increasing the amount of shadow in the image.

Types of flash are listed: all the way from portable accessory units to portable strobes and all the way up to powerful (and not so portable) studio strobes.

More topics: how flash works; output consistency of different units; the role of ISO, lens aperture and shutter speeds.

A subject which often baffles many is the role of a flash meter. These can accurately measure the balance between ambient light and flash output. Cleghorn emphasises that he has used a meter throughout his career and, while he has changed cameras and flash units over the years, use of a meter has remained constant.

The book moves onto info on using wireless flash, the role of accessories such as umbrellas, soft boxes, bounce cards, gels etc.

There are ample illustrations throughout, making the book a rare beast on the photographic bookshelf.

Top book for a tricky subject.

Author: M Cleghorn.
Publisher: Pixiq.
Distributor: Capricorn Link.
Length: 112 pages.
Size: 28x22x10mm.
ISBN: 13 978 1 4547 0244 3.
Price: Get a price on All About Flash at Amazon.

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Barrie Smith
Barrie Smith

is an experienced writer/photographer currently published in Australian Macworld, Auscam and other magazines in Australia and overseas.

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