‘No flash photography’

I’ve always hated using a flash when taking photos. It conjures up horrible memories of washed out images, of people taking photos at concerts in a way that only illuminates the heads of the people in front of them (and not the performers on the stage 50m away), of menu boards in cheap restaurants where you end up ordering the ‘special’ because thankfully they don’t have a photo of that, and of people and pets who look demonically possessed due to red/yellow eyes. In short, I didn’t see how using a flash could add to an image.
But I’ve just embarked on my first ever shoot with a flash…and I am so happy with the results that I felt the need to blog about it.

The good flash and the bad flash

I can still remember my first really good Pad Thai, my first really good Pinot Noir, and my first really good bike, because I had that moment where I thought ‘Oh…now I see why so many people rave about this!’ It was still just a combination of ingredients, or elements or parts…but it was done by someone who knew what they were doing and so it worked. What I realise now is that I simply hadn’t seen flash photography done well (or perhaps more accurately I hadn’t realised that some work that I really liked was the result of a flash). Thankfully a friend of mine Tim Arch (check out his website…he’s awesome!) introduced me to the work of Zack Arias and suddenly I wanted to try to take some photos with a flash!

If you’re even vaguely interested in taking photos using flash then I highly recommend downloading his ‘Onelight 2.0′ videos. They basically take you through how the flash works and then takes you through different photo shoots where he only uses one flash and get’s some amazing photos. They are beautifully filmed, he’s an excellent host and best of all you LEARN a hell of a lot! The boring bits are still interesting, and and the interesting bits are inspirational!

Off camera flash

The biggest difference between what I had seen as flash photography and what Zack was doing was that instead of having the flash mounted on his camera, Zack was mounting the camera somewhere else and then using a wireless transmitter to fire the flash when he took the photo on his camera. So instead of having someone who looks like they’re about to be hit by a car…you have someone who is lit in an artistic or nuanced way. Also he is using something to diffuse the light (a softbox or an umbrella).
I should also add that this is nothing new…it was just new to me.

So I decided to bite the bullet and hire a light stand, some wireless camera triggers, a reflective umbrella and a flash (about $100 for two days) and take as many photos as I could.

Shoot 1 – The brick wall

If you’ve been to our place post-renovation you will know the brick wall we now have in our dining room, I really wanted to use this as a backdrop and so this was my first place I set up the gear.
Now one thing I learnt very quickly is that it’s really difficult to set up the shot without someone sitting in the spot while you take numerous test shots and ask yourself questions like; How powerful the flash should be? Should I be closing down the umbrella to try to focus the light?, How far away should the flash be from the subject? and What’s the sync speed on this camera? (the correct answers for these shots being about 1/16th, yes, about 2ft and 1/160). So you will need to coax someone to sit in while you take the practice shots. Be warned that children have very low tolerances for such things when they could be scooting around the house…and that pleading/needy look in Dad’s eye is just becoming tiresome. But if you can keep one of one of them in the seat for a couple of minutes, you can get something like this

Long haired lout

I really like this shot…but because the ambient light was so low I had to rely on the 550D’s autofocus because I couldn’t really see the face clearly…which I find tends to be a more hit than miss. In this case the focus is on the lips rather than they eyes…but it still works. I also later learnt that I could have had the ambient lights up a lot brighter and still got a good shot as the flash was going to drown out any ambient light…but it’s little things like this that are great to learn in front of a non-paying client.

If the kids have been bundled off to bed, then can try to take a photo of your spouse. They may need to be plied with a cup of tea…but it’s all worth while when you can get a shot like this.

The Cuppa portrait

Shoot 2 –  The Cellar.

I’ve been promising to take some photos of my father-in-law (James) for a website for his wine racking system (I’ve also been promising to build this website…but first things first). So I packed the gear and headed over to his place to take some photos in his cellar.
Again there was a fair degree of faffing around with the gear and setting up the shots…but I’m really happy how they turned out (and best of all he likes them enough to let me stay married to his daughter!)

Sir James

In his element

How old? Very old.
How old? Very old.


Shoot 3 – Outside

This was a purely impromptu shoot at about 5pm in the backyard of Chateau Righi. Basically we had finished shooting in the cellar, I’d had a glass of something cool and delicious, and I decided to try shooting just as the day light faded. What really surprised me with these photos is how the flash overpowered the ambient light. They look for all the world like they were shot in darkness…but it was dusk at the latest and there was still plenty of light in the sky.
What I really love about these is that in using the flash I was actually able to capture a few moments that I would never have captured shooting as I normally do. In that light, even the slightest movement would have meant that the faces were blurred…but the flash captured the moment perfectly.

Where's this bat that you're talking about?
Where’s this bat that you’re talking about?

So in summary, did I like shooting with the flash? Yes I did. Have I completely changed my tune on flash? Yes…but I still won’t use the flash that’s built into the camera. Am I going to buy the gear so I can shoot like this whenever I want? No. At this stage it’s still too expensive…but it is definitely on my list of things to buy…along with the 5Dmk3…and the 85mm lens…and the Fuji x-T1…and the ND filters…oh, and the food for my family…but in that order.