Do you use a flash? If not, this is for you. Most people don’t know how much a flash can help them. Or how cheap they can be. Read on and you will learn the best value gear to buy, and how to use it.
Here are some comments about why a flash is a good idea. If you want to know what gear I recommend, just skip this part.
Do I Really Need A Flash?
You can do most photography with an entry-level camera and one cheap lens. And a lot with just your smartphone. Beyond that, it’s smarter to decide where your money will make the most difference where it counts; your photos, and your enjoyment of photography.
The best thing to buy after a reflector is an off-camera flash. You then move away from relying on the light you have available, and creating your own. This teaches you about light, and makes a noticeable difference to your pictures.
“I Just Don’t Like Flash Photography”
Some photographers take pride in using just ‘natural light’. But they should be concerned with their ignorance of flash lighting. Sure, natural light is often best; but you can’t rely on it. Smarter to learn more.
If you think flash is too obvious, looks artificial and ruins the atmosphere, you may be right. But it depends how you use it. Too many people get turned off without seeing the results you can create.
It is an extra thing to carry. So you may now want to use it all the time. But it pays to learn how to use it so that when you have to, you can; and well.
Why Use A Flash?
Your camera might seem to work like your eyes, but it doesn’t. For thousands of years, art was made from the perspective of someone looking at the world. It’s subjective. We don’t just see what’s there. And this matters.
Imagine you see your friend in a crowd. They will stand out to you. Our mind will highlight useful or interesting things we see. If you’re driving, you notice the road signs, for example.
Well, a flash does the same. By brightening what’s important to you by adding light, it stands out more. It’s about the contrast. You can also keep your subject the same brightness and darken the background with a flash. I’ll show you how soon.
But first let’s cover some more benefits. The next one is freezing motion. A flash is a very short burst of light. That means that things you light just with your flash should be sharp, even if they’re moving fast.
The face doesn’t look good in all lighting. Noon sunlight can be unflattering. The flash allows you to control the light so your subjects look their best and love you for it.
You can also get effects that you can’t with natural light. Especially when you use change the colour of the flash, or use more than one. It’s easy to make photos that look very striking when you know how.
So How Do I Use My Flash?
Here’s how I like to use my flash. Learn to use one light first; that’s normally enough. If I’m photographing people, I want the light to come from the front, above the eye line and maybe slightly to one side.
I normally like a softer light, which means that I need to make the light source bigger relative to my subject. In practice, this just means using a diffuser like a white shoot-through umbrella or by bouncing the light off something like a white wall or ceiling.
Generally, I prefer the flash to be less obvious. I choose my aperture based on the picture. I set my shutter speed to the camera’s sync speed (1/200s on mine). I set my ISO sensitivity to 100. The picture is normally quite dark.
In direct sunlight, it might not be dark enough. If it isn’t, I add a neutral density filter. You can also use high speed sync with some flashes, but I prefer using the ND filter because it saves the flash batteries and delays over-heating.
I then add my flash with my chosen modifier. If I want hard shadows, I use the bare flash more than four meters away. If I don’t, I use a larger softbox closer to the subject. If I want more contrasty lighting, I use the flash closer to the subject. If I want a more uniform light, I move it further away, using a larger modifier if necessary to compensate for the extra distance.
I then set the power of the flash so that my subject is well exposed. If I need to add extra flashes or reflectors to get the look I have in mind, then I do this now. I don’t use a light meter. I use the RGB histograms on the camera, which I find to be more useful for judging the correct exposure.
Then I decrease the shutter speed to let in more ambient light. Often I use a tripod. This allows me to balance the existing light with the flash light I’ve set up. Sometimes I under-expose the ambient light to make the subject stand out. And sometimes I’ll balance them so that the flash is barely noticeable. This is how I make the background lighter or darker with my flash. I’m not going to tell you which is best. This is photography; your taste is what counts.
Sometimes the mix of ambient and flash lighting makes my subject too bright. And then I’ll just reduce the power of my flashes until the balance is right. You can use distance to fine-tune the light too.
The last few paragraphs could of course be expanded to fill a book or a course. Hopefully they are useful as pointers. Hobby’s Strobist.com is a good resource for more information. Broncolor’s Flash How To section on their website is particularly special.
There are more tactics than can be covered here. Even choosing lighting modifiers is an extensive and subjective affair. But the strategy is the same whatever genre you do; adding flash allows you to craft the picture, and therefore your viewers’ reactions to it. It’s quite literally writing with light.
Which Is The Best Flash For Me?
You asked (a lot!) so here are the current Shot.Click Flash Kit recommendations:
Shot.Click Bronze Flash Kit
– The best value way to enjoy the benefits of flash photography.
The Flash – The Yongnuo 560iii (3) flash
This is a classic. It’s tough, simple and reliable. Oh, and cheap. Only get the v4 if it’s less than $10 more expensive.
Radio Trigger – The Yongnuo RF603ii Wireless Flash Trigger
I used to mess about with cables to connect the flash to the camera. No more! And no expensive Pocket Wizards either. This wireless trigger does the job with no fuss.
The Lighting Modifier – A White Shoot-Through Umbrella
Some people don’t like flash photography because the light is too hard. This is normally because photographers use a bare flash because it’s easier. A simple umbrella diffuses the flash and creates a much softer light. It’s good enough for Platon…
Light Stand – Any Old Light Stand
And I mean that. Old light stands don’t become obsolete. If it’s battered and ancient but it’s cheap and holds the flash, then it’s good. You can get cheap new stands too but they can break easily. Choose based on portability and height.
Flash Bracket / Clamp – A No-Name Cheap Flash Bracket
It only needs to hold the flash and the umbrella atop the light stand.
Shot.Click Silver Flash Kit
– Middle way to enjoy the benefits of flash photography.
The Flash – The Godox AD360ii and PB960 Battery Pack
The mark two has the radio receiver built in, TTL metering for lazy photographers and a few more things that make it worth the extra unless you can find the mark one for more than $100 cheaper.
Radio Trigger – The Godox X1T
Get the right trigger for your camera brand. There are several different flash triggers for Godox so you might want to do some more research.
Light Stand – Travel Light Stand or Bigger Light Stand and Boom
You can choose between short, light and portable, or big, heavy and tall. If you travel, choose the former. Otherwise get a bigger light stand with a boom. Second-hand light stands are fine.
Flash Bracket / Clamp – The Godox S-Type Bracket (Bowens)
This is incredible value and very innovative.
The Lighting Modifier – Godox 120cm Umbrella Silver Octagon Softbox With Grid
Pretty standard choice and makes a beautiful, versatile light.
Shot.Click Gold Flash Kit
– The spend-more, get-more flash photography gear
The Flash – Godox AD600 (Bowens Mount) With Remote Head
Most flashes are made in China. Godox are the dominant manufacturer. Many Western companies just rebrand their gear. They make innovative, tough, professional products. And they’re great value.
Radio Trigger – The Godox X1T
Light Stand – C-Stand with a Boom
Heavy and impractical for travel, but if it suits your photography, a C-stand is a great choice. I use a diving weight belt to keep it steady outside.
Flash Bracket / Clamp – Selens Reflective Speedring (Bowens)
This allows you to move the flash back and forth inside the parabolic lighting modifier, allowing you to change the style of lighting by changing the focus.
The Lighting Modifier – Selens 190cm Parabolic Softbox With Grid
This enormous beast will create a particularly special light that you can adjust. It’s a copy of others such as the Briese Focus and Broncolor Para. It’s not as good. But compare the prices.
Which Flash Gear Do YOU Recommend?
Be careful with marketing. I bought the Nikon SB900 for $500 and what a mistake that was. Learn from my mistakes. Smarter buys what’s best, not what’s popular.
I probably should put some affiliate links for these but the money isn’t so important. If you genuinely found this useful and you want to help, do tell some friends about Shot.Click.
You can get most of this gear on eBay or AliExpress (caveat emptor). It’s cheaper if you get it directly from China. It takes more than a month to arrive but curiously, postage is often free.
If you have to use AA batteries the best ones are Eneloops. They’re rechargeable but they don’t lose their charge if you don’t use them for a while.
If you think you’ve seen better options, please do post them in the comments. I waste too much time looking at gear reviews so I’ve probably already seen them and decided the published options are better, but I’d love to be surprised. Let’s keep this guide updated with the best options available.