Off Camera Flash

This was a series of practice shots to fine tune the technique of Off Camera Flash for on location shoots. I did not have a Model, so I set one up! She was very cooperative and took instructions well. You might recognize the Wedding Dress from our Trash the Dress shoots. It is a bit creepy that she does not have any arms. Perhaps that is why she is so sad. A prelude to Halloween? But this is all about portable Off Camera Flash!

We use studio lighting all the time but it is in a controlled environment. The lights are powerful, heavy and use AC for power. Portable flash may be used as the main light source where ambient light is inadequate, or as a supplementary source in more complex lighting situations. Basic flash lighting produces a hard, frontal light unless modified in some way.   Softboxes and Umbrellas are commonly used for this purpose even with small portable flash units. Their purpose is to make the light source larger, and hence the shadows are less harsh. Think of the sun… a point source of light that casts hard shadows. Fill Flash or “fill-in flash” describes flash used to supplement ambient light in order to illuminate a subject close to the camera that would otherwise be in shade relative to the rest of the scene. The flash unit is set to expose the subject correctly at a given aperture, while shutter speed is calculated to correctly expose for the background or ambient light at that aperture setting.

Bounce Flash is a related technique in which flash is directed onto a reflective surface, for example a white ceiling or a flash umbrella, which then reflects light onto the subject. It can be used as fill-flash or, if used indoors, as ambient lighting for the whole scene. Bouncing creates softer, less artificial-looking illumination than direct flash, often reducing overall contrast and expanding shadow and highlight detail, and typically requires more flash power than direct lighting.

The concept of using off camera flash is two-fold. One, when the flash is at a flattering angle, it produces soft and complementary shadows and depth to the model (instead of a flat light mug shot like on your Driver’s License). Secondly, if the photographer meters the background (for example a sunset) and then uses the flash to illuminate the model, this avoids having a blown out (over exposed) background. This shot was taken westward with a setting sun in the background. Had we used just metered with an on camera unit, all the wonderful background details would have been lost. Off camera flash is used with large and expensive Studio Lighting – we do it all the time in our Studio. But when you want to do this on location (i.e. a beach, backyard, forrest, desert, Wedding) you need something portable like common Speedlights which are battery powered. This take a bit of practice, but with some simple, affordable gear, the results will separate you from the snap shooters.

If you would like to have more technical details, just drop us a note at We love to share! (PS stand by for some stunning beach sunset portraits using Off Camera Flash)


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