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Understanding lighting is imperative to photography, so we’re going to start with the basics. This is a guide to camera flash types.

Built-in and Pop-Up Flash

Built-In & Pop-Up flash is constructed within the main camera body. The built-in flash unit is commonly found in point-and-shoot cameras, usually in the corner above the lens. Pop-up flashes can be found on most DSLRs. The flash is mounted on a spring and flips up when activated. An advantage of the pop-up flash is that it positions the light source further away from the lens, reducing the chance of red-eye. These flashes only fire light in one direction, directly at the subject. This can cause harsh contrast and shadows. We’re all too familiar with this issue of having your subjects blown out and dark shadows in the background. However, you can avoid this by balancing the flash with ambient light in the scene. Use the camera’s light meter: start by metering the scene without the flash and then turn the flash on and take your photo.

Compact Camera with built-in flash
DSLR with pop-up flash

Dedicated Flash

The dedicated flash is the most popular of the different flash types. There’s a wide range of choices to suite your budget and needs. The inexpensive, basic models have fixed heads, whereas, the more advanced models have swivel and tilt heads.

The dedicated flash is a flash unit that fits into your camera's hot shoe (the slot on the top of the camera body). Compatible dedicated flash models communicate with the camera’s TTL metering and AF system to automatically provide the optimum exposure. A major advantage of using a dedicated flash over a pop-up flash is the ability to angle the light and bounce it onto your subject, rather than aiming it directly on the subject. This greatly reduces the instance of red-eye.

It’s important to note that most hot shoe brackets are a standard size, and, therefore, most flashguns will fit most cameras that have one. However, the metering connections are not standardized, so a flashgun dedicated to one particular camera may not work fully with another.

DSLR Hot Shoe
Dedicated Flash

Hammerhead Flash

A hammerhead flash is a flash unit that is separate from the camera and, unlike the dedicated flash, it is not attached to the hot shoe; it screws into your camera’s tripod mount. The flash unit sits to the side of the camera, which helps to limit red-eye. Hammerhead flashes also have swivel and tilt heads, and sometimes secondary tubes. The main advantage of using the hammerhead flash is the sheer power. They have a high light output, more than other flash types.

Hammerhead Flash

Ring Light Flash

Often used for fashion, portrait, and macro photography, the ring light flash produces soft, diffused light that brings out the details of your subject without creating harsh contrast and shadows.

The ring light flash fits on the barrel of the lens by screwing onto the attachment threads with a connector to the hot shoe.

Ring Light Flash

Studio Flash

Studio flash heads are much more powerful than flashguns, and can be used in conjunction with a range of reflectors, diffusers, and other accessories to help control the direction and appearance of light. Studio flash is great for portrait and still-life photography. Its benefits are not just restricted to shooting in a studio. It’s also great for location shooting – you just might have more gear to lug around.

Studio flash units are connected to the camera either via the x-sync socket, a hot-shoe adaptor, a slave flash unit, or a built-in wireless connection.

Studio Flash

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