Flash is not a necessary component of a great portrait photography image. In fact, when used without intention or when used incorrectly, adding flash can have a negative effect on an image. It can destroy all of the interesting shadows in a scene, and it can even create an artificial, unnatural look to an image. However, there is a time and place for flash photography; and in this article, we’ll teach you when to use flash and give you 5 reasons to use it in your photography. We’ll review the following reasons:
- To Control the Light
- To Control the Amount of Light
- To Control The Direction Of Light
- To Control The Quality Of Light
- To Control The Color Of Light
Watch the Video | 5 Reasons to Use Flash
But first, for those who prefer to learn with video content, watch the Youtube video below. This video is a snippet from our Lighting 101 course within SLR Lounge Premium.
#1: Control the of Light (of any scene)
The first reason to use flash is to control the light in any scene. Regardless of the time of day or the lighting of a location, a mastery of flash allows you to control the light.
Control of light is really the overarching or umbrella reason of why and how to use flash. Delving deeper, we will illuminate the 4 aspects of light and how to control each one.
#2: Control the Amount of Light
The second reason to use flash is to control the amount of light on your subjects. Sometimes, you want to add in a full stop or two of light in a dramatic way to illuminate an entire scene. Other times, like in the image below, you just want a subtle bump of light to help your subjects pop off the backdrop.
Flash is widely thought of as a tool to create dramatic portraits, whether it be in the studio or on location. While flash certainly can be used in that way, it’s not the only way it can be utilized. If you look at the picture below, the model touching her hat looks a little dark and flat. There’s nothing technically wrong with this picture, but we can control the amount of light to improve the image.
To improve this image we strap on an orange gel (Color Temperature Orange or “CTO”) right onto our flash to imitate the orange glow of sunset. We also use a reflector to bounce our flash off of a reflector. This softens the light, creating a natural look. This is one way to enhance shots using your flash to control the amount of light.
#3: Control The Direction Of Light
In every scene you are going to have an existing ambient light. If this light is not flattering for your subjects or if the light is not powerful enough, there are ways you can improve your lighting situation with flash. The family below is a little dark, and if we expose for their faces the background will be overexposed. The solution here is to add in some light to get a proper exposure for their skin and the background.
The natural direction of light is coming from the right. To make this as natural as possible, we add our flash in the same direction of the existing light; in this case the sun. We use a reflector to direct the light where we want it to go, as well as add some softness to the image.
#4: Control The Quality Of Light
While there is no “best” quality of light, there are however many different ones for many different styles. Soft or Diffused flash lighting can be used to create flattering portraits. Hard or Direct flash lighting can be used to create punk/editorial or dance motion shots.
Specular flash lighting can be used to create a dramatic light for athletes. This hard light is used to define shadows. Soft diffused flash lighting can be used to direct and enhance the existing light in a scene.
There is not one right light, but this knowledge will help you accomplish which style you’re shooting for.
#5: Control The Color Of Light
If you have seen our first workshop, Photography 101, then you will know that every type of light source has its own color. From daylight to tungsten to fluorescent; every light color is different. We use flash to creatively control or even fix the color of light in our shots.
In the shoot above, there was nothing wrong with the orange glow of sunset to match that style. However, a change in flash color made the blues of the ocean and our model’s bikini pop more in the second image. This is an example of creative control over the color of light.
When used with intention, flash photography can help photographers of all levels achieve a desired look. A flash is simply a tool that can be used for creative effects or corrective effects. It can be used to mimic natural light or create dramatic imagery that makes the subject pop off from the background. The possibilities are seemingly endless. For a full mastery of flash photography, see our Flash Photography Training System.