Your camera likely has an “on board” flash. If you own a DSLR, it’s the little flash that will pop up on top of the camera. I’d rather shoot at max ISO, or perhaps not even take the picture at all, than use that on board flash.
I might be exaggerating. But if so, only a little bit.
The deal with on board flashes is that they simply make every picture look completely flat. And this makes sense. All the light is coming straight from the camera (on axis).
Here’s the look it produces:
Harsh. Flat. Stark shadows under the chin and behind the subject. Tiny catchlights in the eyes.
What’s even worse is when I see these “photographers” outside in perfectly perfect open shade, and they’re using their on camera flash as “fill light.” Bummer.
What they’ve done is take perfect, soft light (because open shade comes from a huge light source, and thus is soft), and they’ve BLASTED it with a 1″x3″ light (extremely small = extremely hard light). Compound that with the fact that it’s on axis, and now it’s a completely flat image (because they’ve obliterated all shadow).
Okay, all that said, I know that sometimes…it’s dark.
And obviously we still need to be able to take pics in many situations where there’s not enough ambient light.
The solution? Speedlights.
Speedlights are simply flashes that slide into the hot-shoe of your camera. Here’s a link to Canon speedlights (which will fit all Canon DSLRs) and here’s a link to Nikon speedlights (which will fit all Nikon DSLRs).
Here’s the deal, though. If you’re going to actually buy a speed light, I HIGHLY recommend that you buy one with a pivoting head. Because then you can “bounce” the light. If you can’t pivot the head and bounce the light, you’re right back where you began. You only have a fancy on board flash.
You Need To Bounce
The most common method of “bouncing” is to simply point the flash at the ceiling. The ceiling then acts as the light source, which is off axis, and thus we still have a direction of light that will produce some highlights and shadows. Even more, as the light travels (and spreads out), we now have a MUCH larger light source (the ceiling), and thus much softer light.
But don’t forget, as so many often do, that you can bounce the light off side walls and rear walls. Play around with your angles. Try to think of how natural light from a window might light your subject.
Let’s go through the options one by one.
Bounced Off Ceiling
The reason the ceiling is often a fav among photogs is that it’s usually white. Thus the light bouncing back doesn’t have a funky color hue / cast.
The disadvantage, as you see above, is that it can place shadows in the wrong place. The light is much softer than direct light. Because, again, we’re now working with a bigger light source.
But since it’s coming straight from above, we’re going to have shadows in the eye sockets. Kind of like mid-day sun. Raccoon Eyes.
Some flashes have a little piece of thick paper that you can pop up to help with this (and give a better catch light). I actually suggest searching for another angle to bounce.
Back and up
There was a wall behind me. So follow me. If I angle the flash behind me a bit as well, the light will bounce off the ceiling, but also the wall. This will help fill in those raccoon eye shadows. Here:
Now, yes, if you have a neon green wall, you might notice a green tint to the light. Kerbi’s room has neutral walls. Works just fine.
The wall to Kerbi’s right has a couple windows. I had the white wooden blinds completely closed to block out all light for this little tutorial. Those white blinds make a great object to bounce the light off of.
It gives a familiar light pattern. Makes sense…it mimics the light we’re used to seeing every day: window light.
Notice it lights the entire room quite naturally.
I’ll end with a very slight edit. I bumped up the exposure in Lightroom by about .3 (1/3rd of a stop). And that’s it. Here’s the final … nothing award winning by any means. But far batter than the snapshot feel of the on board flash: