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The on-camera flash

From: Photography 101

Video: The on-camera flash

In the world of flash photography, it's ideal to get the flash physically off the camera. But that's not always possible or practical. Sometimes we just have to have it on here. There's a joke in the world of photography that the hot shoe is the single worst invention on the camera. The problem with it is, is that it puts the flash in exactly, the worst place, centered over the lens, and quite close to it. But again, sometimes we have to work with what we've got. So in this section we're going to be talking about how to modify this flash, to get even better photos than you get with it on here, pointing straight forward, as you see now.

The on-camera flash

In the world of flash photography, it's ideal to get the flash physically off the camera. But that's not always possible or practical. Sometimes we just have to have it on here. There's a joke in the world of photography that the hot shoe is the single worst invention on the camera. The problem with it is, is that it puts the flash in exactly, the worst place, centered over the lens, and quite close to it. But again, sometimes we have to work with what we've got. So in this section we're going to be talking about how to modify this flash, to get even better photos than you get with it on here, pointing straight forward, as you see now.

Some of them will involve simply twisting the flash head, and others will involve adding modifiers to it. So let's get started. The first thing I'm going to do is just take a picture straight on like this of our model and I'm going to shoot with the flash pointing straight forward, the absolute worst way you could do it. And then we'll take a look at that photo. If you could move just a littel bit htis way. Okay, as we can see looking at this photo it's well lit but the shadows under her chin are really, really strong and the light on her face is just harsh.

It's this kind of deer in a headlights look, it's not really that attractive. So the first thing I want to do to modify the flash is tilt it. Now, just tilting the flash in itself doesn't necessarily do anything. What's happening is that we're bouncing the light off of another surface. If the flash is pointing straight at her. This is the light source, and it's shining straight into her eyes. But if I can tilt the flash up like this. I can bounce it off of whatever's over my head. If I'm outdoors, this isn't going to work. But if I'm indoors, like we are here, and especially if you have a light-colored or a white ceiling, this is going to bounce up to the ceiling, making the ceiling my overall light source.

Let's take a look at how this looks. Now as we can see, the lighting is much much better. We have a much softer shadow under her chin, and the overall lighting on her face is not as direct and bright and harsh. So this looks a lot nicer. Now, right now, I'm just bouncing off the ceiling, but depending on the environment, you can bounce it other ways as well. So for example I can turn it. And bounce it off the corner here giving a light source that appears to be coming from off camera like so. Let's try that.

Now this is much better. Now the shadow is not under her chin directly, its off to the side and its much more natural. It looks like the light was never even attached to the camera in the first place. Now, keep in mind. If you are shooting in portrait mode. So, for example, if you've tilted the camera like so. You can still modify the light in the same way. Because it does rotate. If you're bouncing off the ceiling, instead of pointing it out like so. You simply twist it up. And again, you can still tilt it out that way to do what we just did, bouncing it off of another corner. So you can rotate the flash head, no matter what orientation you're holding the camera in.

Now, let's take a look at a couple of different on-flash modifiers. I'm going to go ahead and put the camera back into its original position here. (audio playing) And I have two different modifiers, I'm going to work with. The first one is this little guy from Gary Fong. You can see that it collapses down nice and compact, but when it pops open, what I get is a nice big diffusion panel. And in fact, if I attach the dome on top of it as well, suddenly I have this really nice, big soft light source, instead of the tiny little flash head here, and is directing light forward, and up.

So I get the best of both worlds. I get some light going at her face, to fill it in from the front and I have light bouncing off of the ceiling. You can add or remove this dome depending on what your ceiling is like, how high it is, or just what the quality of light that your after. You can even get these in different colors so you can change the color of the light bouncing off the ceiling. So let's go ahead and add this on. Now, one of the really cool things about this modifier is if I don't want to use it for a shot, I don't have to take it off.

I simply collapse it down, and it's as if it's not even there. And then when I'm ready to use it, It just pops up into place, and we're ready to go. And of course we can add that dome on there as well. For this shot, I'm going to leave it off. Let's go ahead and put this on the camera. And get another shot. As you can see here, you have that really nice soft light, on here face, and coming down from the top.

So overall it's a pretty nice light source. Let's take a look at one more modifier. This little device is called a flash bender, from a company called Rogue. This is pretty cool for a couple of reasons. For one, it folds up really nice and small. So this'll fit in basically any bag you can throw it into. The other cool thing, is that these pieces on the back bend, so you can literally bend the modifier into whatever shape you want. So this does a couple of things. When shooting a portrait like this, I can just go ahead and attach it, and it attaches with a velcro strap.

And now what I can do is shape this however I like. I can just have it straight up like so, but if I bend it in a little bit, it's going to catch the light coming up here, and throw some light towards the subject. What I can also do, is turn it into a snoot. Collapsing it down on itself. (audio playing) So with this modifier on here directing the light in 1 very specific point. This is the kind of thing you're more likely to use when you take the flash off the camera. But for on camera photography it works really well. (audio playing) Just like this.

Let's go ahead and get a shot this way, and see what we're getting. (audio playing) I'll take a look at that shot, and once again, as you can see, we have a much softer light than what we had with no modifier at all. There's a variety of different modifiers that you can get for your flash, this is just two of them. I encourage you to check it out at your camera store, or online, and see what's out there. There's tons of things you can add. Some are very inexpensive, and some cost a fair amount of money, it just depends on what you're after.

So explore this space, modifying your flash, while on camera, can make a huge difference, to just shooting with it straight on.

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Photography 101

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Joseph Linaschke
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