Learning How To Flash

The Background

One of my 101 in 1001 goals was to take a photography workshop.  Well, actually my goal was to TRAVEL and take a photography workshop but after summing up the cost of taking either a photography travel vacation or a class at the Santa Fe Photographic Workshop it was already $3,000+ and for my photographic skill level that was a bit much.  However, I took the plunge last year when the Julia Dean Workshops had a 10% off deal going.

After perusing the options and evaluating return on investment I decided to sign up for the Crash Flash I and Crash Flash II classes which were held this past weekend.  The reason these rose to the top is because I have had my Canon 580EX flash since 2004 and it has barely seen daylight.  This was partially because I thought it heavy and cumbersome but mainly because I had no idea what to do with it outside of stick it on my camera and hope the camera knew what it was doing. I have also been inspired by the amazing strobist works on Flickr but wanted to figure out how to do it with something smaller than studio size lights.  This workshop would not only teach me how to use my preexisting equipment but was also a pretty reasonably priced way of stepping my toe into the photo workshop world without breaking the bank.

The Lead up

So like a student on the first day of school.  I woke up multiple times in the night and WAY too early to make sure I was on time to class.  Both excitement and worry had my adrenaline pumping.  Did I have everything – battery, SD card, flash? should I eat breakfast? Do I have cash for parking? Would I suck at this? Would everyone else be a professional? Would the teacher be a task master?  All of these things kept my teeth on edge.

Needless to say these were all mute points.  I of course arrived on time to find that the classes was nicely sized between 10-15 people I think. The class was also divided between Nikon and Canon to make sure each brand was addressed. The teacher – Julia Dean – was present with two assistance and the class room was amply sized.

Now before we get too far into this, I just want you to know that this post is to share with you my experience as a participant of the class. I don’t plan to reveal any critical tidbits from the class as I believe that would be unfair to the workshop. Think of this as my typical Good, Bad, and Ugly but photography style.

Crash Flash I: On-Camera Flash with Julia Dean

The course outline stated that we would learn the following:

  • discussions on why and how to use a flash as the main source of light (meaning a low-light situation requiring use of a flash)
  • how to use a flash as a fill light (balancing ambient light with the light of a flash unit).
  • how to determine exposure, how to control the light output of a flash, ways to diffuse a flash, and how and why to include or exclude ambient light.

We started by learning our flash, mine was the Canon 58oEX. Some cool things I learned are:

  • That my flash has a wide angle diffuser for use on lens 24mm and above. This is now ingrained into my psyche as I found out the hard way during our day two photo shoot that yes, this is important since I own a 10-22m
  • A starting point for using flash indoors to balance the ambient light.  It is so nice to at least know where to begin and then work from there.  This is what was referred to as the golden rule so I can’t tell you but here are some shots to show you the rule in use.

The Golden Rule

Non Golden Rule options at each extreme

  • Compensation on camera versus on the flash – I just fiddled with the dials in the past to get them to work but now I know that there is a difference and which controls the background and which controls the lighting of the subject.
  • One should use a diffuser to get better light rather than bare flash. I own an Omnibouce which is pretty small and easy to carry
  • Distance from subject based on aperture. This one was hard for me to remember but because I was never super close or super far from subject it was not that big a deal, but I did make myself a cheat sheet for my flash 🙂

Lots more was learned technically speaking but those were some of my major take aways.

Now here are some other picture from the class that show the use and balancing of the fill light.  Please note all these are Straight out of Camera (SOOC in photography geek speak 😀 )

Before and After

Before and After

I have to say I feel like I not only learned a major Houdini trick but now understand the physics principles behind it.

So Cool!


Crash Flash II: Multiple Flash with Julia Dean

So Day Two was a separate second workshop called Crash Flash II.  The class promised:

  • Review information from Crash Flash I: On-Camera Flash, such as using flash as the main source of light and as fill-flash.
  • How to use wireless flash technology
  • How to use multiple flash — with light stands, umbrellas, and gels — in the studio and on location, with both wireless TTL and with radio slaves.
  • A four-hour shoot in the afternoon to put all of the techniques to use with agency-represented models as subjects.
  • At the end of the day, a critique will take place to view students’ work.

Suffice it to say we did touch on all these items but the cool parts were:

  • Using the light stands and umbrellas – I really liked using the umbrellas for light diffusion.  I felt that it cast such a wonderful and natural light on the subject.  Given it is more equipment to lug around, but if you are planning a fashion or portrait shoot I definitely love to have this on hand.  Not too bad in cost either so this will go on my wish list for short term satisfaction 😀

The setup: 580EX into Umbrella on stand to model right

One of the resulting pics from that setup.  The point was to create a 1:1 match with the lighting so she didn’t look flashed but to take away some of the shadows produced by the bushes

  • Learning the wireless flash technology! That was pretty damn cool.  Given most of the wireless options range from $200 to $250 EACH PIECE, most needing at least two pieces to be useful.  Ouch!  But it was really fun and addictive to use. I now whan the new PocketWizard FlexTT5 for canon . Le Sigh
  • Working with the models is what made the day so cool, but it also made it VERY nerve racking for me as I was trying to get my camera setting right, find interesting areas to shoot, direct the model, and try to produce a passable picture so as not to disappoint the subject.  For me it was a little like walking and crewing gum for the first time.  One of these factors always went a little wonky.  The majority of the time it was the picture quality…LOL!  But man it really kept you on your toes and I probably absorbed more in this sink or swim atmosphere than the controlled atmosphere from the day before.

Here are some some pictures from the day.  Click on the pic if you want to see it bigger:

The Female Model:

Without Flash

With Flash

Below are a few of my favorite shots from the female model shoot.  I was going for a fashion shoot type look so I bumped up the flash compensation by +1 to give her a greater punch of light. These were also shot with my 10-22mm hence the slightly stretched look in the second and third photo.  These are all SOOC except for cropping

20mm :: f 8.0 :: 1/200

10mm :: f 8.0 :: 1/200

10mm :: f 8.0 :: 1/200

Here is what it would have looked like without flash using the same exposure

10mm :: f 8.0 :: 1/200

The Male Model:

Our male model was AMAZING, both in looks and character 😀  I really hope he makes it big because it would be deserved.  He really worked hard for the camera and was so nice but sadly my photography and flash skills, both pretty mediocre in comparison to my classmates, were just not coming together. Plus we were working with the setting sun which changes your exposure as time passes.  This was coupled with 3 other student photographers also shooting the model and a time constraint of getting them back at the appointed time led to some frantic picture taking and not much thinking about technique.  But I definitely learned some lessons, the biggest being…


Use your Wide Angle Diffuser when working a lens under 24mm!!

The two pictures below show a very concentrated beam of light.  This is because I did not have my wide angle diffuser down on my flash, but was shooting with the 10mm side of my zoom lens

10mm :: f 8.0 :: 1/125

10mm :: f 4.5 :: 1/80

The ones below were shot with the diffuser down.  You can tell the difference in the dispersion of light in the foreground grass

10mm :: f 4.5 :: 1/80

10mm :: f 6.3 :: 1/80

Conclusion(Yes, finally…as this has been one of my longest posts ever…LOL!)

My overall review of the workshops is that they were everything I hoped to accomplish in the two days.  Julia was amazingly fun, very laid back, and made you really want to learn and have fun.  On our last day she even added an impromptu photo shoot and brought us a bottle of wine to sip on while reviewing the pictures from the day.  The only down side was that until end of January 2011 the studio is still in Venice which made for some expensive parking at $15 dollars a day,$30 total. I hope their Hollywood location will have better, less expensive parking options.  I also wish they had filtered our pics a little better as it took quite a while to review them all.  But all in all a great opportunity.

BTW, sorry if you all were looking for a flash tutorial or “how to” post.  Being I have not used the info outside of a class setting yet I don’t really feel that it would be mine to give.  Instead as I use the techniques and learn more, I will share with you how it goes and we can do some learning together 😀