From talking with a lot of my fellow photographers, learning how to use a flash always seems to be a bit of a barrier. For me, personally, and for a lot of the photographers I know, we all love natural light. However, sometimes you just need a flash. While entire books have been written on the intricacies of flash, here are a few (very!) basic tips to give you some ideas on how to utilize your on-camera flash.
1. Read the Manual
I am all for experimentation when it comes to equipment, however, reading the user manual on your flash will make your life much, much easier. Really, I can’t stress this enough! The user manual will explain the various modes on your flash, which will help you decide which modes are best for the type of photography you do.
2. Use TTL
TTL (through the lens) is a great mode to start with if you are new to flash. Basically, TTL is a metering system in which the lens and the camera work together to determine the correct amount of light from the flash to properly expose the subject. This mode generally works very well to properly expose your subject, though, in some instances, for example, if your subject is too dark and there is a lot of ambient light, a proper exposure may not be achieved. But, as a rule of thumb, TTL is a great place to start.
3. Diffuse the Light
Even if you do not have the strongest flash on the market, you may be surprised at just how much light your flash creates, especially in smaller spaces. In order to prevent harsh shadows around your subject, you will need a flash diffuser to soften and even-out the light. There are a variety of diffusers on the market, starting around $10. Personally, I use a plastic diffuser because it is sturdy, and stays securely attached to the flash head.
4. Direct the Light
A flash diffuser will evenly spread out the light between your subject and their surroundings. Sometimes, though, you might want to have a certain amount of light on your subject, with the rest of the light on their surroundings. In this situation, a bounce-card will come in handy, as it directs a certain percentage of light to sufficiently expose the surroundings, without creating harsh light on your subject. Snoots will direct the light even more precisely, producing a narrow circle of light on your subject, which can create a very dramatic look. Snoots are often used in portrait photography.
Now, if you find yourself in a situation where you do not have any type of diffuser, but can bounce the light off the ceiling, or the wall by rotating your flash head (most flashes will allow you to turn the flash head in various directions). Bouncing the flash is handy because it directs the light away from your subject rather than directly on them, but the walls or ceilings will diffuse the light enough to light your subject and prevent shadows. The one thing to keep in mind, though, is if the ceilings are very high, you may not be able to get enough of a bounce, as the light will just go straight up and never reach the ceiling! This also depends on the strength of your flash, though.
6. Manual Mode
Once you feel like you have a grasp on TTL mode, try experimenting in manual mode. Set your flash all the way from full power (1/1) down to 1/64, just to see the variation of how much light your flash can produce. Also, experiment in different lighting situation such as low light, ambient light, and even natural light.