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Now that we have more of an understanding of the different flash types, we can get down to the reasons you would use flash and how to do so. Some photographers are opposed to using flash and only use natural light to illuminate their photos. While other photographers appreciate soft, natural light, they also know how to utilize artificial light. When it comes down to it, there’s a time and place for flash.

Most often people think of flash as a way to brighten dark subjects, which, it is, but it can do so much more for your photography. Flash allows you to control the light – control the amount, direction, quality, and color of light.

Amount of Light

It may seem odd to use a flash outdoors on a sunny day, but flash can enhance the natural light. For example, the first image is a nice portrait but it is a little flat. Using a flash that’s bounced off a reflector gives the portrait additional light, while keeping the natural look.

Portrait of a Woman with no flash
Portrait of a Woman with flash

Direction of Light

Depending on the time of day and where the sun is in the sky, natural sunlight may not be enough. Using flash is a great way to brighten your subject while keeping the natural, ambient light of the background. For instance, the background lighting of this image is natural and soft. We want to keep it that way. You can tell the natural light is coming from the front and slightly to the left. By adding flash and keeping it the same direction as the natural light, we reduce the shadows on the right side of her face.

Portrait of a Woman with no flash
Portrait of a Woman with flash

Quality of Light

Direct Flash

As a general rule of thumb, you never want to use direct flash. Using direct flash can cause harsh light with contrasting shadows. Really, it depends on what you’re shooting. Direct flash is great for shooting an editorial style image or an image that utilizes harsh light with lots of highlights and defined shadows.

Model with shadows

Specular Flash

Image 2 is a perfect example of using specular flash lighting for a dramatic effect. The harsh light creates shadows and helps to define the model’s muscular form.

Muscular male model

Indirect/ Diffused Flash

Unless it’s the look you want, you will never need to use direct flash. There are many ways to work around using direct flash to create a softer look. Bounce the flash off a reflector, a white wall, or ceiling. Even a piece of white paper works well to bounce light and illuminate a subject. Diffused or soft lighting is great for creating flattering portraits and headshots.

Portrait of a woman outdoors
Businessman headshot

Color of Light

Flash allows us to creatively control or even fix the color of light in our shots. The first image has a cooler light, and there is nothing wrong with that. But if we want it to have a warmer feel, simply change the color of the flash to create that warm glow.

Portrait of little girl with no flash
Portrait of little girl with no flash

Take control of light, and don’t be afraid to use flash. Happy shooting!

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