Lighting (Part 2)
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Last week I wrote about artificial light. I mentioned that there are a few places where artificial light (flash) is really needed. You will still have to read your manuals because my objective here is to demystify a tool that might prove useful for your DSLR. Demystify does not mean make easier and artificial light, specifically speedlight flashes can be frustrating.
Flash is mostly used in Program Mode, Aperture Mode or Manual. In Program and Aperture, your camera’s through-the-lens metering combines the flash and exposure. I suggest you start with Aperture Mode. This is because the light is far more affected by the fstop than the shutter speed. The fstop (depth of field) tells the flash how much power to use, and it needs more power the further away your subject is. The shutter speed only makes a difference if you lower it enough to let in natural light.
So assuming your flash and camera are set to Aperture Mode, you set your exposure as you normally would and take a flash assisted shot. Check the results, you will probably need to use exposure compensation (reduce your exposure) to tone down the flash. Most cameras these days permit high speed photography with flash, be warned that when you set your camera to use this mode of flash it will use a lot more battery power.
More than likely you will only want the flash to compliment the natural light, however, what you may notice is dramatic light fall off making your backgrounds go dark if not black. The flash is providing only enough light to achieve the fstop you set. Lower shutter speeds and/or cutting back the power of the flash, will allow in natural light. Also placing your subject closer to the background will capture the light before fall-off.
You may find that the light is harsh like the midday sun and not like an overcast day with soft light. There are two ways to remedy this: get the light closer to your subject (counterintuitive but it works), or better yet diffuse the light. Some flashes come with domes, you can buy other diffusers depending on what you are photographing. In the past it was suggested that you buy an umbrella and light stand. In my view, it is now a better deal to buy a small soft box (manufacturers include Westcott, Lastolite) or a robust bounce reflector (Rogue, Honl) and work with those until you have decided to go further with flash.
Lastly, flash has a learning curve, and in my own use I am constantly finding new ways to use it as well as new problems to be solved, but when it works, its great.