The Phoblographer Answers: A Photographer New to Flash

All images by Salim Hasbini. Used with permission.

When you were first starting out as a photographer, you most likely knew nothing about flash. Some of you may still know nothing, but you should know that it isn’t that difficult to learn. If anything, it just requires you to be creative and to see light.

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Hi Chris,

Thanks for offering to help. Here are the salvageable flash photos from this year’s Halloween (I used a Nikon FM3a).

As for questions:

A guide on setting flash power in manual mode (combined with camera settings

Matching camera’s f-stop to flash f-stop (this option is on my flash: Nikon SB-24. Flash says f/11. Do I set camera to f/11 also? How does TTL factor in?)

General how-to guide with flash (bouncing flash, which direction? why?)

Zoom setting on flash versus actual focal length used. What does this affect?

These are vague questions because I’m pretty inexperienced with flash. Any kind of primer would be appreciated. Thanks in advance for your help. I can try to clarify anything needed.

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Hey man,

Just looked at these.

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First off, artistically speaking there is nothing wrong with these images. In fact, all I kept thinking about in earnest is how fricken’ fantastic these are.

See those light trails you created? That’s using something called Second Curtain flash. See this. I’ve also done it. It’s a cool creative effect.

Please note, there are photographers that would KILL to do this. The Slipper Room (kudos for going, I haven’t been in a while but I’d gladly go with you again) is designed for this pretty much.

What you’re doing is shooting at a very slow shutter speed to also capture this fast movement. It’s pretty simple overall though.

I’d need to see the flash personally to figure all this out for you. But flashes are typically set at guide numbers. Here’s an explanation on how that works. But the flash that taught me all about flash after reading the manual was the Vivitar 285HV. The Vivitar 285HV has full color coding and that teaches you how to use it. Your flash output is based on three factors: flash power, aperture, ISO. With a flash attached to your camera, all the shutter speed controls is ambient lighting.

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The zoom on a flash basically affects how tight the beam will be. That’s all based on one major question: Do you want your light source to be larger (softer) or smaller (harsher). A 35mm lens covers a larger area overall than an 85mm or 105mm if you’re standing in the same place, right? So with that said, the 35mm is the larger surface area. Setting your flash to 35mm makes it illuminate for that large of an area. Zooming it in creates more of a spotlight effect set for 85mm. In fact, I always fire my flash with the wide angle diffuser on so that it covers an even larger area and therefore makes even softer lighting. Does that make sense?

Bouncing flash, lots of photographers tend to point their flash directly up at the ceiling. This is completely, totally wrong if you’re photographing someone in front of you. Why? You’re shooting the light right up and not illuminating their face. So how do you do this? Fire the flash upward and behind you slightly. When it’s firing behind you and upward, the light is bouncing back down and forward in front of you. Think about it as a hose. If you point it straight up and the water comes down, it’s going to mostly hit on top of you (your hair). But if you fire it up and back a bit, the water will bounce down at back towards you.

Hope this helps too.

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