In this episode of Oh Shoot Podcast!, Cassidy Lynne (@cassidylynne) shares tips for using a flash on your camera! She covers TTL mode, manual mode, flash settings, diffusers, and more!
In today’s podcast we are talking all about flash! I did an episode forever ago on flash, but I wanted to revisit the topic and let you guys know how using flash has been going over the past year. I’ve been experimenting with it more and have a little bit more experience! Whenever I post on Instagram or TikTok the questions I get constantly are: “How do I use my flash?” or “What are tips for using flash”. So today we’re going over Flash 101!
My Journey with Flash
My flash journey has been very up and very down and very up. My overall conclusion of flash so far has been that it is unreliable. However, I think it depends on the flash you have. I’ve learned that flashes with rechargeable batteries like a lithium battery are chef’s kiss! They’re amazing! Every maybe 3 weddings, I need to recharge my batteries. Which is incredible compared to the flash I had a year or so ago. I literally had to replace the batteries in my flash three times a night because it was using double AAs. Using a flash with rechargeable batteries is essential!
Protect The Hot Shoes
With your flash you need to be really careful with your hot shoes. Your hot shoe is what connects the flash to your camera. It’s like a little horseshoe and you slide your flash into it and lock it in. You need to be careful with the hot shoe on both your camera and the hot shoe on your flash. It’s a little digital connection and if any of those little prongs get messed up, you’re literally going to have to replace your hot shoe or even get a whole new flash.
Flashes come with little covers for the hot shoe and your camera comes with a cover for it too. Despite what you think, they’re actually important to use. Be diligent about putting the hot shoe cover back on after your wedding or sessions. If you find that your flash isn’t working properly, don’t blame it on the flash right away. It could be a hot shoe problem.
Moments I Use Flash as a Photographer
- Obviously using a flash during the reception for dancing, and sometimes during speeches and formal dances if I need to.
- Sometimes during getting ready, if the getting ready spaces are either dark or have tricky window light. I find that bouncing a flash during the getting ready portion of a wedding can be super helpful.
- During portraits I might use a flash if they have specified they want more of a film style of photography. I’ll point my flash directly forward to get some filmy vibes.
- Along those lines, I use my flash for trendy photos or a certain vibe my client sent me or that I have in my head.
When I’m bouncing my flash those are the moments I want my flash to not really be noticed. I don’t want someone to see or think, “Oh they use a flash for this.” It’s supposed to be super natural and glowy. When I’m using direct flash and pointing it forward that’s when I’m intentionally using flash to get a specific look.
I’m definitely on the direct flash train and love it! I feel like the photos turn out great and the lighting is incredible. Everyone’s skin always glows when you use direct flash!
If you’re still unsure about the direct flash world, I encourage you to take a day and go and use direct flash everywhere! Use it outside. Use it inside. Use it in all these different places like in the shade and in the sun.
Direct Flash in Pitch Black
I also used direct flash when I photographed a wedding in South Carolina. At the end of the wedding, the couple wanted to jump into the ocean. So I used my direct flash for that and it did its job. It was literally pitch black, so if you’re photographing in pitch black you gotta do what you got to do. Whip out your flash. At the same wedding, they did their reception on this balcony outside with just candles and it was SO dark. The sun had gone down and it was pitch black, so I had to use direct flash for that too.
Camera Settings for Flash
When you’re using a flash let’s first talk about what you need to change on your camera. There’s not much that needs to change but, if your camera doesn’t automatically set your shutter speed when you put your flash on, you’ll need to do this manually. Most of the time your camera knows that your flash is connected and it’ll automatically put your shutter speed where it needs to be.
Typical shutter speeds for a flash are 1/60, 1/200, or 1/250 on your camera.
That is how fast your shutter needs to open and close in order to capture the flash of light that your flash is illuminating. So it’s making sure that your flash is synced up with your shutter, so the shutter actually captures the flash.
The other thing I change on my camera when I put a flash on is bringing my aperture up. Flash adds light to your photo. That means that you need to add some darkness into your original settings. Typically, I will crank my aperture up. I typically shoot around F 2.0 or F 2.2. When I’m using a flash I’ll usually bring it up to like F 2.8 or F 3.2. It does depend on what I’m photographing. If it’s dancing reception photos I’ll crank my aperture a little bit higher because there’s more people. However, if it’s just my couple or one person then I’ll keep my aperture around 2.8. It’s still lower and going to give me a bit of blur in the background, but I’m using a flash so I need to be careful of my exposure.
With ISO on your camera, you can keep it at whatever looks good for exposure. With flash and you’re adding extra light to the image. Therefore, your ISO is probably going to need to be lower than what it was if you were using natural light. When I’m shooting direct flash my ISO has to be as low as it can go and my aperture has to be decently high like F 3.2 or F 3.5. It’s not ideal for me, but sometimes you have no choice and the photos are just too bright.
Now let’s talk about the flash itself! We’ll talk through the different modes and settings on your flash. There are two different modes we’re going to talk about. There is TTL mode on your flash and manual mode. The two different modes are basically how auto and manual would be on your camera.
I encourage people to photograph in manual on their camera. You have full control over your images. However, when it comes to flash that is an extra added variable that sometimes is not worth the headache of shooting in manual mode. I’m going to be completely honest with you guys. On my flash, I am always using TTL mode. I’m always using the auto mode on my flash and that’s because I do not have the brain capacity while I’m shooting to not only worry about my camera’s settings but also my flash settings. It’s a lot. That’s six settings versus three settings that you have to worry about.
TTL Mode on Flash
TTL mode stands for “through the lens”. Basically what it means is your flash is analyzing what the flash settings need to be through the lens of your camera. It’s making a decision for you. When your surroundings change, your TTL mode settings will also change. I actually find that to be so helpful. During a wedding, I don’t feel like I have the ability to think about my flash settings at the same time I’m thinking about my camera settings. I’m able to rely on TTL mode to get good flash photos and then I can worry about my camera settings. It really is the best-case scenario for me.
Manual Mode on Flash
If you want to try manual mode, try it! Here’s how you can try!
The first thing you need to know is there’s a fraction on your flash and it looks like shutter speed like 1/20, 1/60, or 1/1. That is your flash power. That fraction is telling you how powerful your flash is going to be. So the lowest number like 1/64 is going to be the least amount of light. The most power that your flash can give off is 1/1, so that is the most powerful setting in manual mode.
The thing to keep in mind with using a high power versus a low power is the brightness. How much flash and light does your subject actually need? Do you actually need to go to full power? The other thing to keep in mind is if you are using a higher power on your flash that means your flash batteries are going to die so much quicker. The more power you’re using, the less reliable your flash battery is gonna be. If your battery is lower and it’s using more battery, it’s going to take more recycle time too. Recycle time on a flash is how quickly your flash can go from taking one photo to then taking a second photo.
The other thing on manual mode on your flash is aperture. Aperture is a little confusing when it comes to flash. Basically your aperture number on your camera determines how much your flash needs to emit light.
Let’s start with the basics of what is aperture. So aperture is the opening in your lens and is the hole that light travels through. The wider the aperture the lower the number. So F 1.4 is basically the widest aperture and there is more light it’s letting in because of that. As your aperture gets smaller and as you get to F 5 and F 8 that hole becomes smaller and smaller. If your aperture is at F 8 that’s a small hole compared to F 1.4. Therefore, because the hole is smaller your flash needs to let more light out and it needs to be more powerful in order to get enough light through your aperture hole.
The smaller the aperture opening, the more work your flash is doing. This is an interesting thing to think about because when you’re setting your manual flash settings in manual mode you need to think about the power, the shutter speed, and then the aperture number as well. If you really want to play it safe, you can set the aperture on your flash to whatever it is on your camera and mess around with that power number so that flash power is really the only thing you mess with.
The other thing when it comes to manual mode on your flash is focal length.
Flash focal length determines the area over which the flash will spread out. If your lens is zoomed in at 200mm and the flash is zoomed out at 35mm a lot of light will be wasted on your environment that will not be visible in the photo. On longer lenses like a 200mm, your flash is going to send out a concentrated amount of light more focused on the center of your focal length because it doesn’t need to distribute that flash everywhere. However, if you’re shooting at something really wide like a 24mm, your flash is going to need to distribute that light everywhere because a 24mm is really wide.
Common knowledge and common sense say to set your focal length to whatever your focal length is on your camera. So if your camera lens is a 35mm, you can set your flash focal length to 35mm. There’s really no reason to set it to anything different unless you have a very specific look that you’re going for.
Those are the three different areas of manual mode on a flash: flash power, aperture and focal length.
When you are bouncing your flash, picture the flash as a stream of light. When your flash is pointed directly at the ceiling that stream is going up to the ceiling and then it’s gonna hit that ceiling depending on the color of the ceiling and is going to distribute downward. Light can evenly distribute and bounce off of white surfaces, so if you are bouncing a flash you want to make sure you have a white surface to bounce your flash off of.
Bouncing Problems in Dark Spaces
Otherwise, you might run into some issues and I’ve run into issues with this before, especially in barns. You all know these types of barns. It’s a dark wood barn and all of the walls are dark wood and then the ceilings are also wood. These barns are literally the darkest environment and I cannot bounce my flash. Because it’s a literal dark brown surface and light does not bounce off of that. It just gets sucked into dark surfaces. So if you’re shooting in an area where you can’t bounce your flash, my recommendation is:
#1 Use the white card on your flash.
Your flash should have a little white card you can pull up and you can bounce your flash off of this card. In the dark barn venue, I used the white card and pointed my flash so it wasn’t straight up nor was it directly forward. It was more at a 45-degree angle. It was better than having no light on my subjects at all.
If you bounce your flash and you find yourself switching your camera between landscape and portrait frequently, you also have to move your flash around to match the orientation. You’ll get the hang of it and make it a habit.
Shutter drag is a method of using your flash and is really popular to use during wedding receptions. Basically, you are leaving your lens open longer and then your flash goes off and it’s capturing your flash and then capturing the external lights in the environment.
Two Phases of Shutter Drag
There are two phases of shutter drag. The first part is your camera is going to capture the flash going off and it’s going to freeze your subjects in place. The second half of the photo taking process is the remaining time your shutter is open and it’s capturing all of the ambient light in the room. If there’s a lamp or string lights, that’s what it’s capturing. When you are doing a shutter drag, you are freezing your subjects in place, but also getting slow motion light leaks in your photos.
How to Drag Your Shutter
When I’m doing a shutter drag, I’ll press my shutter and then I’ll very quickly swing my camera in a sweeping motion. Then there are light leaks that sweep across my image. Shutter drag is a whole different level of art. It’s very intentional and if you mess it up, and you shutter drag in the wrong direction then your photo is trash. You really have to be so intentional with shutter drag.
Shutter Drag Camera Settings
Start with these settings and adjust!
-Shutter at 1/20 or very low.
-Aperture at F10 (a high setting)
-ISO at 100 or 50.
If you’ve never tried shutter drag, at night turn on a lamp in your house and mess around with shutter drag settings. Take a photo of something and then sweep your camera in a sweeping motion. It really creates this party vibe. I feel like that’s why a lot of photographers, specifically wedding photographers will use shutter drag. It’s such a fun vibe. At a wedding reception, I recommend trying it out during open dancing, once you feel like you’ve captured enough photos and have room to play! Definitely not something to try during important moments like first dances!
In my two years of updating this flash episode I have discovered the art of a flash diffuser. I discovered this recently when I got a new flash. Basically, it’s this little globe that goes on top of your flash and it diffuses your flash for you, so it’s not as strong and intense. It’s much more soft light.
The flash diffuser I have actually came with my flash. I bought the Godox V1 Flash and they have all different types of this flash for Sony, Nikon, Canon, or whatever camera you have. I have the flash for Sony and it came with a kit. This kit has different colors of translucent pieces of paper you can put over your flash like red and blue if you want a specific color over your subject. It also came with this little globe and it just attaches right onto my flash and it gives me a super nice and diffused look which I can appreciate.
Here’s a link to my Amazon gear list with the flash kit I have!
If you are new to the whole flash world or you feel like your flash is a little bit too intense and you want a softer and more natural look, go to Amazon and find a flash diffuser!
If you liked this episode specifically I would love for you to leave me a review or DM me. Let me know how you feel about it! Repost it to your story. Regardless, I’m just glad that you’re here!
Get 50% off Honeybook here: http://share.honeybook.com/cassidylynne
Want more free education? Check out my website for photography freebies, presets, & courses!
Are you a part of our photography Facebook community group? Go to http://facebook.com/groups/cassidylynne/ and join the discussions of thousands of other photographers.