Posts from the Old Blog: Photography Class Follow Up – Flash

I was honored to have been asked to teach at this year’s MIPX Forum Photography Meetup – unlike any conference/convention ever!

I know there’s a huge realm of shooting situations where neither studio lighting nor natural lighting is feasible. And a lot of photographers just can’t get a look that they are satisfied with out of their hotshoe flash. So I choose to focus on flash lighting for one of my classes. The rest of this post is simply follow-up information for the attendees.

It’s been crazy here since returning from Tulsa! We got home to a roof missing many shingles from the recent storms. Half of our house was without electricity, and it took tearing apart every switch/outlet box in the house to find the problem! And, even though I cleaned house thoroughly before leaving, as soon as we got home I had an instant mess again!

First of all there was a lot of interest in some of my nerdy DIY solutions to lighting problems. Here’s the link to my Velcro strap And here’s the link to my Gel Holder

Everything that I’ve learned, I’ve only learned because there was a photographer before me who was willing to share. For continued learning, I’m always just an email away, but also you can go straight to the source. These are some of the photographers I have learned the most from:

For on camera techniques: Tangents Blog/Neil Van Neikirk

For off camera techniques: Dave Hobby, Joe McNally, Zack Arias

Also, there was a degree of interest in using gels to color backgrounds. I didn’t want to spend too much class time on it because it was beyond the scope of the class, however I’m more than glad to address it more here. In class one of our main points was on allowing the ambient light to be your main light source and then adding just a splash of light to achieve your exposure/fill. However, for coloring your background you really need to take more of a studio lighting approach by setting your exposure so that you don’t really allow any ambient light in, and then creating your light with your flashes/ strobes.

So make sure that your exposure without lighting is pretty dark, several stops underexposed. Then add your lighting.

Further, you need to make sure your flashes/strobes on the subject aren’t spilling onto the background. The inverse square law tells us that the closer our light is to our subject the sooner the light will fall off. So if we don’t want to allow our main light onto our background, we need to make sure the lighting on the subject is really close (that also gives us a softer light – double win!) Also, regardless of the inverse law, we know that the further the light is from the background the less likely we are to get spill. So get some space between your subject and your background, and make sure the lighting on the subject is in nice and close to the subject. Then slap a gel on your background light and fire away.

Here’s my ambient exposure on my background. BTW I’m not a studio photographer and don’t own a proper background, this is just a twin sheet hanging in a doorway between 2 rooms. Cheesy right? I know.

Settings are: ISO 400, 1/250, f1.8 OK, but as mentioned, we want to kill the ambient light.

This is where I’m at, there is still a tiny bit of ambient light, but very little. Settings are: ISO 125, 1/250. F3.5

With that exposure here is the addition of the gelled background light (don’t remember the exact flash setting but was somewhere around 1/16 power).

Vixen Red:

And Cactus Juice Green:

Insert one slightly bored and irritated subject.

Subject light is 1 shoot-through umbrella camera left at about 1/16 power. Notice that the background is a little different in this one, because now that I have a subject I’m focused on him and the background blurs a bit.

Also note that these are very vibrant gels for illustration, and less vibrant gels will give a more subtle effect (which is highly recommended).

IMPORTANT: If you haven’t already done so, please fill out your evaluation forms. You can do this online in just a few minutes. If there is something you really liked, you need to say so or it may go away. Also, if there is something you didn’t like, you need to let us know so that we can continually make this event better! You should have received links to the online survey, but if you didn’t shoot me a quick email and I’ll send them to you.

Finally, if you haven’t already done so, please give a public shout out to MIPX. And if you have, do it again!

And finally, finally here is my outline that I used in class!

Flash that doesn’t look like Flash –


• On camera flash isn’t bad, on camera flash that’s not well thought out is bad.

• We’ll begin with the first flash technique that people usually learn, the ceiling bounce, and improve the light step by step from there. In other words, we’re not going to jump straight in to the prettiest light without first learning other basic techniques.

• This class is very non-technical, so I’m not going to teach a bunch of formulas – instead I’ll focus on ideas that you can take and apply as you like.

• Although there are many wonderful and creative ways to use light, we will be focusing on creating a soft look that rivals natural light.

• We will also be focusing on being able to adapt to situations, so although there may be ways to create better light, like shooting through a huge octabank, we will focus on ways to create beautiful light in most any situation.


• I don’t use expensive modifiers – they are great for in studio, but on location they are often impractical and time consuming.

• I don’t use expensive flashes – I do not have an unlimited supply of money, and I can do more with 5 $100 flashes that do 90% of what a $500 flash does than I can do with 1 $500 flash.

• I use the Yongnuo RF-602 triggers, I paid $50 for 1 transmitter and 3 receivers – PWs would have cost $700 for the same thing.

• 5-in-1 reflector is not only great for reflecting light but also diffusing it.

TTL vs. Manual

• Off camera flashes are always set manually

• On camera – either is perfectly fine.

• If on camera is set manually, remember that as you move closer and farther away from your subject the exposure on them will change.

• My on camera flashes are usually set to TTL, switching to Manual as needed.

4 Areas Flash Goes Wrong

• Strength of the light

• Color of the light

• Direction of the light

• Size of the light Ceiling


• Ceiling Bounce – way better than direct flash, but leaves us with raccoon eyes.

• Adding a white card or diffuser cap helps fill shadows, but leaves us with a still somewhat harsh light and no direction.

Other Bounce Surfaces

• The wall behind you is a great bounce surface – it becomes your effective light source so it’s like having a huge softbox right behind you.

• Throw a little fill by having your subject hold a reflector.

• The corner is even better, it mimics the 45% angle usually sought in studio lighting situations.

• The side wall is often even better in many situations, it looks like window light.

• Use a reflector to fill.

• If you are outside you can bounce off of a pillar, someones light colored shirt, a reflector – look around for any highly reflective surface.

Foam Half Snoot

• Many bouncing techniques leave you with too much forward light.

• Adding a black half snoot blocks forward light and leaves you with only beautiful directional light.

• Especially helps achieve equidirectional light.

Bouncing Notes

• Watch color casts.

• I’m not a fan of diffuser caps when bouncing, they spread the light too much and you don’t really get direction.

Off Camera with Optical Triggers

• Many speedlights have an optical trigger – OT’s work by flashing when they see a light flash so you need 2 flashes.

• Set your main light off camera, bouncing off a sidewall or something, set your on camera flash to just enough power to fire main flash or fill as needed.

• Popup flashes can be used successfully on a very low power setting, but are far from ideal.

Triggering with Radio Triggers

• Allows you to use 1 off camera flash without the need to trigger it via another flash.

• Imagine where you’d place a softbox, bounce your light there.

• You can easily set up multiple lights for more creative, or more even light.

Using Umbrellas

• Like bouncing, using umbrellas softens and spreads out light.

• You get more light using an umbrella than bouncing, because more light is lost on the way to and from the bounce surface.

• You can move the light in closer with umbrellas.

• You can set up a standard studio type shot with a main and a fill.

• You can place the lights opposite each other at a 45% angle to the subject for a pretty cross type light.

• You can move them right next to each other to create a giant softbox effect.

Flash Outside

• Diffusers are almost useless outside because the vast majority of your light is lost.

• Bouncing is useful, if there is a readily available reflective surface.

• Direct flash is acceptable outside as fill, but feather the light so that you don’t cast long shadows on the ground.


Leave a Comment