5 Flash Photography Techniques for a Digital Camera

Learn five flash photography techniques from commercial photographer Dan Bracaglia in this digital photography lesson from Howcast.

So as you get more comfortable with your camera, chances are you’re going to want to start experimenting with flash photography. It’s a natural progression of any enthusiast, and that’s a great thing.

So there’s a lot of different techniques you can use to get the image that you want, and the most basic one, assuming you’re using a full off-camera flash, is the bounce effect. It’s very simple. The idea being is you want your bounce your light source, the flash, up off of the ceiling and back down, so it falls naturally over your subject and looks much more natural.

If you let it straight on like that, it’s just going to blind your subject out in the same way a pop-up flash would, which is really not going to give you anything. Again, with the bouncing technique, it’s important that you have a low ceiling. Light colors help because black absorbs light, so if it’s a black ceiling. It’s not going to come down with as much power as a white ceiling would.

Also, keep in mind that when bouncing your flash, you’re going to have to increase the output to make up for the double distance that it’s going to be traveling, or more.

Another flash technique that I like to use is called slow shutter or shutter drag. Essentially, what you’re going to do with shutter drag is you’re going to slow your shutter down to maybe about an eighth of a second. And you’re going to pop your flash in the same way, generally off the ceiling. And what that’s going to do, assuming your subject is in motion, is it’s going to give it a little bit of a glow. Because it’s a slow shutter, it’s going to have some blur to it, but that instant that the flash pops, it’s going to freeze everything in the frame and give a really interesting effect.

A couple of examples of that here. This is just a slight example with a skateboarder obviously moving very quickly. Another example with a rock ‘n’ roll band. So you get this little bit of a glow, especially, I’ll zoom in here around his arms. You can see the movement, and it’s just a really interesting effect. It gives it a really gritty look.

Another technique for flash photography is firing your flashes wirelessly. And this is really good, again, for portrait photography, for lighting a big scene at night. And I actually use that also in this frame, too. This is with three different flashes, all fired remotely to light this one subject.

There’s a couple way you can fire your flashes. Companies like Radio Popper and Pocket Wizards make transceivers and transmitter-end receivers that you attach to a flash unit, and you attach to the hotshoe of your camera to fire via radio signals or other means.

Another really easy way to fire your flash remotely is you take off your flash and you mount it where you want it. You can then use your pop-up flash to trigger that flash, as well. The way that works is most, if not all of these flashes have something called an optical sleeve. What the optical sleeve does is when it sees a beam of light fired, it will fire a beam of light at the same time. So you set the flash output on this one, and when it sees this one pop off, it will also pop milliseconds after, so quick that it won’t matter. They’ll basically be aligned. That’s a really quick and dirty way to fire your flash.

Other ways include the various sync cables that will go from your hot shoes to the hot shoe on your camera. Higher-end DSLR’s have a sync-port here which you can also attach to your flash, right to your camera.

There’s a lot of different options; cheaper ones, more reliable ones. The best way to go is to get the transmitters. But using your pop-up flash to trigger in the first place is a really great way to just dive in to off-camera flash.

In addition, there’s a lot of flash accessories you can get to attach to your on-camera flash. Companies like Ray Flash make attachments that will fit over the front of your flash and mimic a ring light. It’ll come down and around and diffuse the light around your flash. Again, really great for portraits, really great for macrophotography. There’s a lot of other companies out there that make all sorts of different products. Flash Spinner is a really great one to diffuse light.

So as you get more into flash photography, poke around and see what people like, and see what you like, but I definitely encourage starting with bouncing your flash off the ceiling and seeing how that goes from there.