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Friday, January 25, 2013

Time to Click: The Strobe Flash

It's been a big week all about light and your flash! Today, were talking Strobes... what are they, why and how you want to use them!

So what makes a flash a strobe? What's the difference between a built in flash and a strobe flash?

To the first question, well I guess it depends on who you ask... many people seem to think that the term Strobe, is what you would find in studio photography exclusively.  The big lights that have stands or hang from the ceiling. While that is true, those are typically "strobe" lights, and they do flash, the term itself has evolved to more of a street or slang term for simply a light that fires on command (electronically) and syncs with the shutter of your camera.
Portable Flash: Attached and Detached

So, your flash on your camera that is built in, is also a strobe style. Flashing when commanded, rather then the continuous style lighting that stays on all the time like we talked about yesterday. The terms strobe, and flash are pretty interchangeable these days. And so you can have an on-camera flash, a small portable camera flash, a small portable off-camera flash, a low-powered monolight flash, or even an extremely powerful studio flash system, and they are all called electronic flash, and you can call any of them strobes as well!

Just for clarification, "strobe" flash, very different then a "strobe" light... which you would find in any cool 80's disco or hot techno club!
Flashes can be put on brackets to create more distance from the camera

The biggest difference between your built in flash and an additional flash, weather a studio strobe or a portable camera flash is distance and coverage. Which we have talked about before. However, there are several other practical and useful differences as well.  For our purposes today, since we already covered situations and settings for your built in flash, were going to talk about the portable off camera, or attached to your camera flash. While I wont be covering studio "style" strobes, know that these do fall under this category and work for the most part in the same way as a portable camera  flash. I will be sure to do more of a studio lighting class if any of you would like that.

Most of the time in today's world, a flash that can be connected to your camera on a hot shoe such as shown above is called a speedlight. The hot shoe, allows communication to your flash from the camera with electronic sensors.  The biggest thing you MUST know when you go to purchase one,is that if you are not getting one made by the same manufacturer as your camera you MUST get one that is made for your camera. A flash made for "Canon" will mount but will not work on a "Nikon".. or any other brand.

These all have on light modifiers, that bounce, or soften the flash
Next, I find it almost silly to purchase an additional flash with out a bounce, tip, and swivel, option.  If your spending the money anyways, these are very good controls and come in handy more often then you would imagine, once you know what they do.  Basically, bounce, tip and swivel allow you to be in control of where your light source is coming from. It doesn't always have to be directly at your subject! In fact there are occasions when you wouldn't want it directly on them!

Direct flash - creating red eye and darkening rest of image, also washing out cats true coloring due to over exposure.

By bouncing flash from ceiling, you remove red-eye, lighten the image, and show true coloring.

Bounce: So what does bounce/tip mean, and how do you do it? Simple, you tip the top section of your light towards the ceiling or a white surface - TIP: it is very important that it be WHITE, otherwise what ever color you are bouncing off of will overwhelm your image... because it will reflect that color of light back down.  You need to think about where you are standing and where you want your light to hit, think about your angles....

This also not only keeps your subject from being overexposed with too much light hitting them, but it can be very effective in eliminating harsh shadows as well!

Vertical shot, with flash attached and pointed straight on subject. Harsh shadow to the side due to light coming from left side

Vertical shot, with flash pointed at a white reflector up and to the left. This bounced light down, behind the subject as well as covering the front and side. Notice the shadow is much less harsh, and the exposure overall is much better.

Shot horizontally with flash tipped up to bounce off reflector and over entire front and back of subject. No shadow from prop.
Swivel: Now, having a flash that swivels is just as handy... this means you can bounce your light from the side... like what I talked about with using a single light and a reflector for a home studio solution... but it is great for taking shots of people as well.. since again, you control where and how much of the light will hit them, fall behind them, or fall in front of them. Since light is the best way to change the feel of an image and add dramatic effect... this gives you amazing abilities to effect your image!

Flash swiveled to the side towards wall... reflection to hit subject.

Bounced light from the left side for highlight

Location: Being in control of where you flash is located, as in being able to use it off camera, is a fantastic perk! Since light is the biggest effect you can have over creating a "feeling" and "story" with your images.

Slave Flash: As an added bonus, I can also use my flash to trigger my studio lights without effecting my image at all. By swiveling the flash head all the way behind so it's pointing over my head, it can trigger other lights set to a "slave" mode, meaning they fire when they see another flash burst. It works in a pinch for me, since I normally use a wireless remote trigger hooked directly to my studio lights. But for someone who doesn't have that device, or when I forget to pick up a spare battery... this is a great alternate option! Plus this works for other Speedlight style (don't forget thats just a common term for flash that attaches to your digital camera) flashes as well as studio strobes. I know plenty of photographers that have 2-3 Speedlights and use them as studio lighting, rather then bulky studio lights since they can also be set as slaves, and or triggered remotely making on-location studio's much easier to carry around.

Adaptability: These lights not only have good range, power, and provide you with the ability to manipulate that as well as angles and direction of your light, but they also offer you the ability to work with additional light manipulators. I have talked about this a little prior, in our Light 101 post.
These light reflectors, and diffusers are priceless when you are working with people and products. With these products in addition to your flash unit, there is an unending amount of possibilities for your images!

Reflector: Showing translucent, gold and Silver options...

Light Modifier's (umbrellas) for speedlight off camera

I certainly could not do what I do without having full control over my lights. Not only in how I can manipulate where the light is coming from, and how many I can use. But also, in how much output of light, or how powerful they are!

How your flash works:  For the common user, you will set your camera to some sort of  TTL (through the lens) metering option, and your camera will "talk" to your flash to evaluate the light in the scene and they will work together to expose your image correctly.

Additional modes you may find on your additional flash may be, (not all Speedlights let you set all these modes):
    • TTL (Through The Lens): The light from a pre-flash reflected by the centre subject is metered by a sensor in the camera and flash power is adjusted accordingly to expose the centre subject is correctly.
    • TTL BL: Like TTL, but the algorithm used by the in-camera computer to figure out the flash power setting is more complex and takes additional data into consideration.
  • Auto
    • A (Auto): The light reflected by the scene is metered by a sensor inside the flash itself and this measure used to determine flash power level.
    • AA (Auto Aperture): The same as A, but automatically adjusts the aperture setting on the flash to match the aperture on the camera.
  • Manual
    • M (Manual): The flash power level is set explicitly by the user.
    • GN (Distance Priority Manual): The power level is derived from the distance to main subject, as set by he user.
    • RPT (Repeating): Like M, but the flash fires repeatedly during a single exposure.

The more you learn about your flash, and your camera the more you will be able to manipulate the look and feel of your image when shooting it. Which in my book, is the essence of a photographer! That happens when the shutter clicks, not in "post production", at least in my world.

Luckily flashes also come with manuals - I would suggest you hang on to yours since we will continue to grow on this core post and talk more about how to use the manual modes, as well as the other accessories you may have gotten with your flash, and ones you may want to add! For now, I hope you can see where it could be a huge benefit to your photography to add this to your collection of "must have" items in your camera bag and hopefully I have inspired you to grow a bit in your photography world! Next week we will be ending our Time to Click series by putting together some of the lessons we have had in the past few weeks, into practical situations.

1 comment:

  1. thanks for commenting on my blog, I'm so excited I found yours I just got a new camera and can't wait to try out the tips!

    just started following :)