Getting Flashy

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve finally taken delivery of a flashgun, many months after I originally decided I wanted one. The idea being, I’m really enjoying portrait photography and want to be a little more in control of my lighting (plus, my niece has a habit of being in dark living rooms).

For now, however, I’ve been quite limited as to who I can practise on. Like my earliest portraits, I had to practice on myself, which I guess is all part of growing up.

I started in my bedroom, because it has a very neutral background and slightly opaque curtains. First, I shot using bouncing the flash off of the white door, using the diffused light coming through the curtains to fill in the rest.

1.3sec, f/4.5, ISO 100, 37mm

I then tried positioning the flash to boost the natural light.

1/8sec, f/4.5, ISO 160, exposure bias -5.0, 38mm

As you can see, the exposure compensation is all the way down at -5.0. This is simply because I’m not very schooled at using flashguns, especially remotely fired ones where there isn’t great two-way communication between the two devices. I’m now looking at finally cashing in one of my training course vouchers and going on a flash course, but since the next one is not until October I’m a bit worried that I’ll have learnt bits by then.

Ater playing about at wider angles, I broke out my macro lens. Unfortunately, as most of these shots were taken with my camera on my GorillaPod with my remote shutter release, I couldn’t get far enough away to see much of anything.

0.3sec, f/3.5, ISO 100, exposure bias -3.67, 100mm

For this shot, as you can just about see reflected in my left eye, I was bouncing the flash off of a white box in front of me for a lightly less shadowed image.

So naturally, the next thing I tried was a very shadowed image.

1/10sec, f/3.5, ISO 100, exposure bias -3.67, 100mm

Admittedly this has been doctored a little to bring out the harshness (I used one of the ‘Cross Process’ presets in Aperture), but it seems to work pretty well.

Similarly, I took this image with even more harsh sidelight and bumped the contrast to enhance the effect.

1/8sec, f/3.5, ISO 400, exposure bias -3.0, 18mm

At this point, instead of bouncing the flash (reflecting it off of a white surface) I was pointing it directly at me but putting it further away. It makes for stronger shadows, but these add definition, I think.

1.6sec, f/5.6, ISO 100, exposure bias -3.33, 79mm

I then got bored attempting to shoot myself, and sought out another subject to give me a chance of being comfortably behind a camera, rather than awkwardly in front of it trying to operate it.

I soon found a willing participant.

0.3sec, f/5.6, ISO 400, exposure bias -3.33, 69mm

At this point it was getting a bit dark in the room – enough for my camera to have to fire its own flash in order to be able to focus – but this shot above looks like it was taken in daylight.

With me now holding the camera, I was able to put my GorillaPod to work holding the flash (which has a helpful screw mount on its stand) and played about a bit more with lighting directions.

2.0sec, f/5, ISO 100, exposure bias -3.33, 52mm

From the left…

1.0sec, f/5.6, ISO 100, exposure bias -3.33, 75mm

… and from behind.

I eventually finally stumbled on a decent technique which got a natural result:

2.0sec, f/5.6, ISO 100, exposure bias -3.33, 87mm

To achieve this, I bounced the flash off of a white box, diffusing it. This image (shot with my iPhone) shows the setup and should give you a bit of an idea of how dark it was:

The next day, I took delivery of a diffuser for the flashgun, hoping to soften some of the shadows, and set about playing some more.

The very first shot I took was of a rather nice glass of cherry wine from the good and exceptionally talented people at the Lyme Bay Winery (highly recommended, by the way).

0.6sec, f/5, ISO 100, exposure bias -5.0, 55mm

I’ve noticed that the way WordPress compresses images for in-line posting often seems to lose something in the compression. I politely ask you click on the image above to see the native resolution version as there is some lovely condensation on the side of the glass that looks to be lost.

I quickly turned the camera on myself again.

1/10sec, f/7.1, ISO 100, exposure bias -5.0, 18mm
1/13sec, f/7.1, ISO 100, exposure bias -5.0, 24mm

I quite like the lens flare on these two images. But then, I quite like all of the lens flare in the JJ Abrams Star Trek movie, so what do I know?

I then pointed the flash more directly at me. As you can see, the diffuser doesn’t do a whole lot of softening of the shadows.

1/8sec, f/7.1, ISO 100, exposure bias -5.0, 18mm

I tried shifting the flash to an unusual position, under a table bouncing upwards, in the hope of getting a randomly scattered light. It seemed to work pretty well.

1/5sec, f/5, ISO 100, exposure bias -5.0, 24mm

Sensing that perhaps my planned post for my flash experiments would seem a little narcissistic, I started playing about with more inanimate objects. I was also interested in experimenting with the placement of the flash.

1/10sec, f/7.1, ISO 100, exposure bias -5.0, 31mm

As you can probably see, I put the flash behind this bottle of sweet chilli sauce giving it a weird, illuminated look. I decided I quite liked this, so I put the flash behind the glass of wine from earlier.

1/4sec, f/5, ISO 100, exposure bias -5.0, 18mm
0.3sec, f/5, ISO 100, exposure bias -5.0, 52mm

After that, I had a go photographing it again a little more traditionally.

1/4sec, f/5, ISO 100, exposure bias -5.0, 58mm

I’ve enjoyed playing about with flash. It’s great to be able to experiment with the strong side-light I like to use in my portraits photography, and actually have control over it for once. The next step, of course, is starting to practise on other people.

9 thoughts on “Getting Flashy

  1. Great book on using flash, single of multiple, “Hot Shoe Diaries,” By Joe McNally. Nikon orientated but a great learning tool. He has a blog as well, well worth giving him a look.


    1. Thanks for that Thornberrie, he has some good looking and unique photography. I’m always on the lookout for new inspirations, so definitely worth subscribing to his blog. Thanks!


  2. Great post on flash photography! Lots of detail and information. Nice one! 🙂


      1. No worries! It’s good to see a blog with more than just a photo posted – particularly if it helps others! 🙂


  3. This is a great photography post, loads to learn from. With my love of contrast, it’s perhaps predictable that one of my favourites of your experiments is the self-portrait at a distance with loads of shadows – VERY Hitchcock. I also like everything you’ve done with the flashgun behind the subject, because it’s a little bit different and very effective. Have to tried it with something shiny but not transparent? Just wondered what it might look like off something like a trophy (just watched the women’s tennis final…)

    It’d be really good to have a go at some of these lighting effects in the theatre at some point. The new technician we’ve appointed mentioned he was quite into photography during his interview (no, that’s not why he got the job. I think.) so we may have another one for the club.


    1. I might give the shiny opaque object idea a go, if I can find something suitably shiny and opaque. My first instinct was that it wouldn’t work any differently from any other non-shiny, non-transparent object, as it would be being lit from behind, but now I’m not sure. Definitely worth a go.

      I’m still keen on giving the theatre lighting photography a go. The shots you got of that production a few months ago had excellent lighting, and I’ve basically been wanting to give it a go ever since!


  4. Don’t for get to take that baby along outside as well. Fill flash can make all the difference and so many times I wish I had off-camera flash outside.


    1. Thanks Jon, fill flash is one of those things I’m constantly forgetting, and the one time I tried to use it the ambient light was too dark and the flash too strong (and this was my on-camera flash) and it became a bleaching-out flash.

      I’m sure at some point I’ll be using this baby on the other baby (my niece). There was a perfectly-sized slot in my camera bag for it, so I shouldn’t be forgetting to take it with me. Remembering to use it is an entirely different matter, however!


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