Master flash

We help you to avoid harsh shadows and highlights when using flash

Using flash with photos can be an immense help if you are faced with a situation where there is not enough light to create a correctly exposed photo, for example when shooting indoors or at night. Even when there is a lot of light available, a flash can be useful for when your subject is backlit or in shadow. Flashes come in all different shapes and sizes, from the built-in flash on ‘point and shoot’ cameras to the pop-up flash on mid-range DSLRs, and finally to powerful flashgun units that attach to your hotshoe. Flashguns are the next step up in flash use, and the possibilities with these units are endless. The best thing about them is the control you have with power output, plus they are often fired remotely from the camera to give more pleasing results when placed off camera. You can also often change the position of the head so it doesn’t fire directly. In this feature, however, we show you how to create pleasing results whatever equipment you are shooting with, as well as all the skills and techniques you need to reduce harsh shadows and soften light.

Control the light. Tricks to soften harsh flash.

Bounce the flash

When flash is fired straight at your subject, it can be a bit harsh, causing bright highlights to appear that are often unflattering. Bouncing is a way of deflecting the light from a flash to a wall or ceiling, which makes the flash less harsh and more flattering over a larger area. You can do this easily with a flashgun by either pointing your flash head straight up, left or right, depending on where the surface is that you want to bounce off. With fixed flashes or pop-up flashes, white card or paper can be placed beneath or to the side to bounce it this way.

Diffuse your flash

Flash light can be of great benefit, but it can also be cold, harsh and unflattering. When the light is concentrated into one area, it can cause harsh highlights and dark shadows to appear. If you diffuse the light, though, it can really help soften it. There are a number of ways to diffuse flash with modifiers like brollies, which can help expand the light over a larger area, but these are expensive. Using tracing paper or a milk carton over the flash is a cheaper alternative that can produce a noticeable difference to the harshness of the light.

White balance

While modern cameras are usually pretty good in Auto white balance, they can get it wrong sometimes. Flash light creates a cool cast over images, so it’s good practice to set your camera to the flash preset to warm colours and keep them accurate and consistent throughout your shooting.

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