I used to be a strictly natural light photographer. One of the genres that I’ve always loved photographing is newborns. I quickly realized that the majority of families wanted their newborn session to take place inside their home. The thought of photographing anything indoors was terrifying to me. I knew that using mixed lighting in a home was a no-no, and I often found that using only the available natural light was not sufficient. I decided that to be confident photographing in any indoor space, I needed to learn how to use off-camera flash.
Over the years of photography trial-and-error, I determined that – based on the amount of noise – I did not like to go above an ISO of 3200. I am also not a very dark and moody photographer, nor do I often use very dramatic light. My style of photography is a bit more bright and vibrant, and I knew that using flash for my indoor photo sessions would help me to maintain that style.
If I could offer up some advice about getting started with off-camera flash, it would be the following….
You Don’t Need a Lot of Equipment
Let’s go ahead and assume that you – like me – are photographing newborns in someone’s home. You really only need ONE light. For a more pleasing look and ease of use, it’s best if you can get that light off of your camera. In addition to my camera and lenses, all I use for indoor sessions is one light (the Profoto B10), a light stand (generic one that I found on Amazon), and a trigger (the device you will put into the hot-shoe on top of your camera so that you can trigger the flash). And by no means do you have to spend a fortune on equipment. I use the Profoto because it is powerful and extremely user-friendly. However, an inexpensive speedlite can be every bit as effective.
Do Your Research and Educate Yourself
Hopefully you have the exposure triangle mastered. If you don’t, that’s step #1! Adding flash is just throwing in another piece to the puzzle. I like to refer to it as the exposure SQUARE. Invest time learning how to use the settings on your camera in conjunction with your flash. Learn what sync speed means, when to use high-speed sync (HSS), what through-the-lens (TTL) means and how it works, when to use your flash in manual, etc. Above all else, just do it! Practice makes perfect! That is hands-down the best way to learn and get comfortable with using off camera flash.
Here is an example of my typical camera settings during an indoor newborn session. If I’m photographing a family of four indoors, I initially set my aperture to 3.2, my ISO to 100, and my shutter speed to 1/200 (you’ll need to know what your camera’s sync speed is). I put my Profoto B10 on a light stand in a corner of the room and point it directly at the ceiling. Then I set my Profoto Air Remote for my Canon camera to TTL mode (which is basically auto mode for your flash) and I take a test shot. If the light looks too “flashy”, I will either decrease the power of the flash or increase my ISO and then take another test shot until it looks good. Just keep in mind that the more ambient light you let in, you may introduce motion blur if your subjects are moving around a lot. If you are not allowing any ambient light in, your flash will most likely freeze motion (even at slow shutter speeds).
Practice, Practice, and Practice Some More
I stated above the importance of practicing with your flash. This is the best way to get yourself truly comfortable and confident using it. When I first started practicing, I’d set up a stuffed animal on my bed and literally photograph it at various flash and camera settings. I’d practice bouncing the light off of the window, wall, and ceiling to see how it effected my image. I practiced using my flash with and without a modifier. I’m not saying that it’s not necessary to read about flash, take training courses, review other resources, etc. Those things really are very necessary, BUT the way to become confident is by actually USING FLASH!
What are you waiting for?! Give it a try. I promise you will be glad that you know how to use flash. You will be more at ease knowing that you can create beautiful images regardless of what the lighting in someone’s home is like. And if you have questions along the way, give me a shout!