Off Camera Lighting (Part 1 of 3)

When I first started into photography, specifically people photography, I advertised myself as a “natural” light shooter.  Do you think I did that because I loved the “natural” light look?  Was it because I wanted to photograph only what was there?  I would bet the real answer is one that many of you would give if you were willing to admit.  What’s the real answer?  I had no idea how to use an artificial light source.  There it is…  I was clueless and rather than learning this particular aspect of my trade I made excuses.  Now, I know some of you out there are saying right now “but that is my style and I really do like to use only natural light”.  Are you saying that because you truly feel that way or because you are trying to avoid dealing with a flash?  If you really are a natural light shooter then I would certainly suggest that you branch out into the artificial world because natural light isn’t always available.  Then, you could claim to be an “available” light shooter.  You would use whatever light is available (natural or artificial).

If you are like me, here is how you dealt with the very first flash you bought for your camera system.  You stuck it on the hot shoe took a few shots and then wondered why in the world everyone looked like their photo was taken at the local DMV.  From then on you stuck it in your bag only to come out when someone asked if you had a flash.

After years of doing just that I finally decided that I wanted to really get a handle on this lighting thing.  I started reading books and watching videos trying to absorb all that I could.  There is one tip that was relevant in all these studies.  You have to get the flash off the camera.  This allows you to control the direction, the power, and the softness of the light.  If you leave the flash setting on the hot shoe you will always have that flat “drivers license” look.  Now, there are ways to help mitigate that effect if you are left with no choice and we will talk about that in Lighting Part 2.  Given the option though always take the flash off the camera.

The hot shoe should be used more for a controller (master) flash, transmitter, flash cord or if you do not have any other choice the flash itself. Most modern systems have built in wireless capabilities.  Most use inferred or a flash signal from the built in flash on the camera to send a signal to the off camera unit.  In these cases the on camera flash powered can be lowered so as not to affect the light in the photograph.  That way your primary light will be the one off camera.  Check your make and model for specifics and get that flash off the camera. You will see an immediate improvement. It adds dramatic light casting various shadows across your subject and eliminates annoying red eye. 

Next up we will be looking at light modifiers, why we need them, and how to use them.