Five Techniques Every New Strobist Should Learn

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Pentax K50 image samples (3 of 10)ISO 1001-160 sec at f - 8.0

When you’re starting out as as a strobist, you’ll immediately see just how much better your images can potentially become. But in order to make them even better, you’ll need to learn a couple of techniques that can help you get a creative vision across.

Overpowering the Sun

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Stephs first edits (17 of 18)ISO 160

The term overpowering the sun is often used to talk about how you can make your camera and flash work together to overcome the ambient light that the sun will provide. If you’ve got native strobes for your camera system (ie. Canon with Canon or Nikon with Nikon) then you can use the high speed sync mode to use your flash and also shoot at a higher shutter speed than your flashes typically provide for you. Otherwise, it will depend on your flash’s flash duration at a given power level.

Another alternative is to use an ND filter to kill the ambient lighting–but you’ll then need to raise the artificial light’s output accordingly.

Now, this is the Sparknotes version of killing the sunlight. We’ve got a much more complicated guide on how to do this here.

Second Curtain Flash Sync

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Little Miss Rollerhoops portraits (19 of 24)ISO 2501-6 sec at f - 8.0

What second curtain flash sync does is freeze motion while letting some blurring occur. It’s best used during concerts, parties, and when you need to capture images at a slower shutter speed overall. Typically, when a flash goes off, it goes off with the first curtain of a shutter to stop all motion. But if the flash goes off in between the first and second curtain, you get this effect that you see above.

It’s a very specialized technique, but it allows you to have loads of other creative possibilities.

To do this, you’ll need to ensure that you camera supports it with the flash or wireless triggers. DSLRs typically do allow it, and Sony mirrorless cameras do as well. Other systems, like those from Olympus and Fujifilm, need to accomplish it with their own system flashes. That means that if you’ve got PocketWizards in the hot shoe, you’re out of luck.

Creating Catch Lights and Speculars

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Profoto B1 First Impressions sample photos (6 of 10)ISO 1001-160 sec at f - 5.6

Besides creating more light, one of the biggest and best reasons why we use flash and strobe are specular highlights. These are extra details that are brought out when flash is added–and these details can’t be seen otherwise with regular old natural/ambient light. Catch lights help to add a bit for flair to a subject’s eyes and are a type of specular highlights.

Indeed, images shot with a flash that create specular highlights can far outdo those that don’t have them in terms of pixel for pixel sharpness. It can also make output from older cameras and lenses seem better than that from a newer setup.

Seeing Where Shadows Fall on a Subject

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Pentax K50 image samples (5 of 10)ISO 1001-160 sec at f - 3.5

If you’re shooting portraits, knowing where shadows fall is one of the biggest things that you’ll learn. When using strobes, a modelling light of some sort can usually help with this by showing you exactly where the shadows will fall. But the placement of shadows can make someone look better or worse. Shadows and the way they fall can be controlled by moving your light around or putting it in a bigger lighting modifier of some sort.

How much of an image shadows have on your images can be controlled by your shutter speed due to the fact that shutter speeds control ambient light output.

Becoming a Total Master of Bounce Flash

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Lulu Left 4 Dead Witch Westcott Ice Light (5 of 22)ISO 64001-30 sec at f - 1.0

Though many on-camera flash users mostly use the bounce flash technique, taking it off the camera and using it that way can help with the directional quality of lighting. When you don’t have a light modifier available, a low ceiling or even a wall can help you provide all the light that you need in the right situation. When your flash is in the hot shoe, it limits the way that the light is output in the final image. If it’s off the camera, you’ll quickly be able to see just how much of a difference it can make from just aiming and tilting the head.

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Chris Gampat

Chris Gampat is the Editor in Chief, Founder, and Publisher of the Phoblographer. He also likes pizza.