One of the essential tools of any party photographer is an on-camera flash. It’s important when it comes to dimly lit situations or when there just isn’t enough light on a subject’s face. For the person trying to get into it, doing this can be tough and intimidating because they have no idea how to use a flash and simply pointing it forward and shooting isn’t always the best idea either.
So here’s how you do it.
Understanding the Environment
At parties, there are typically lots of people in a room that gets crowded pretty fast. So a lot of the photography is going to be very close up and personal. Sometimes you may want to get a moment that is very far away, but that can be tough to do. You’re better off either giving up or getting closer to it.
Keep this tight environment in mind as you continue to read through this tutorial.
The Rules of Exposure with a Flash
The rules of photography and exposure mostly change when you add a flash into the mix. The flash has what’s called a flash duration–which is essentially a stopping power that acts like a shutter speed in some ways. But here’s how the rest works:
Shutter speeds: Control the ambient light in the scene and how much of it bleeds into the image. Since you’re using an on-camera flash, you should consider things like the max flash sync speed, your focal length and how the reciprocal rule of shutter speeds will play a part, and the weight of your gear plus moving variables like people bumping into you.
Aperture: Controls the amount of power of the flash affecting the scene. This is the best global definition encompassing TTL and manual flash. With TTL, the flash reads your aperture and exposure compensation to adjust itself accordingly. In manual, the flash fires the same output and the aperture gauges how much of the flash affects the scene.
ISO: Controls the overall sensitivity
Manual or Aperture Priority
Using a flash has everything to do with you aperture and ISO, followed by your shutter speed. In aperture priority, your flash output will stay constant providing that your ISO doesn’t change. Your flash doesn’t really look at the shutter speed at all. Sometimes the overall best setting to go with is a shutter speed slightly below or over the field of view of your lens (depending on its focal length being more wide or telephoto accordingly). Then you pretty much just fix it to that, and you’re ready to go.
With some cameras, you get to dial in a fixed shutter speed in the menus when you attach a flash. This is designed for parties and weddings.
Manual Zoom Head
The flash head most likely has some sort of zoom functionality that makes the beam more narrow or wider. Sometimes to best thing to do is to set the flash head to the widest that you can and go about shooting like there is no tomorrow–at least when it comes to close up situations (which you’ll be in often at parties). Plus, this is also another way to soften the look of the otherwise very hard light.
Your other alternative is to use accessories that soften the flash light output. Lots of photographers use some sort of plastic diffuser that they pop over the flash and that to me honestly does nothing. The best item that you can get your hands on is a Rogue Flash Bender in the large size. Then point the flash upward to the ceiling and fire away. You can also shape it to channel the light into one direction or the next.