Lesson from the Shot: How to Improve Your Flash Photography by Stanley Leary

by Stanley Leary


Figure 1Figure 2


The harsh reality of direct flash photography is the tell tale shadow behind the subject. Most professionals try to avoid using flash on camera, because it looks like an amateur shot.

What do we know about flash? We know most point and shoot cameras come with a built-in flash, which produces straight on harsh light. One cannot change the angle of a built-in flash.

Also, if the subject is looking directly into the lens/flash, red eye often shows up during exposure. Red eye is the “flash” reflected back to the camera from the eye’s retina. If the flash is off angle to the subject, red eye will not occur.

However, there are times when the only option to make the photo is to use direct flash.  In that case, getting the photo is more important than no photo.

Figure 3Many professionals light the subject from the side. Light 90 degrees from the camera, on the left or right side, gives the subject depth. It requires a camera that will allow the flash to be detached from the body.

One can use a cable between the camera and flash. Most flash/cable solutions are used at arms length for high or side lit angles. (Check your manual for the correct cable for your camera and flash.)

A little more expensive solution is to use a remote flash tripper. Two common flash remotes are used; a generic radio remote and a wireless unit designed to work with your camera/flash TTL. Both of these will allow placement of the flash away from the camera.  Each solution has its advantage and disadvantage.

The advantage of the radio remote is the long distance (up to 400 feet — depending on the unit). It works around walls, even through them. The disadvantage is one must go to the flash unit itself for manual adjustment. Also, lost is the TTL function—where the camera pretty much figures out the correct exposure.

On the other hands, the wireless system, like the Nikon SU-800, will use the camera’s TTL to calculate proper exposure individually and fire all the flash units. The draw back is the relative short distances and line of sight proximity to each flash unit.

When creative directors, art directors and editors hire professional    photographers, there is an expectation of getting something different than what they would do themselves.  

While picking a unique angle with a different lens may give the client something different, the minute a flash on camera is introduced, it immediately looks like something they could have done very easily themselves.  So, why should they hire someone else to shoot it?