In my last post in the series No Fear Flash, I discussed the importance of using off camera flash during indoor portrait sessions in order to achieve natural looking light. But that is only the first pieces of the puzzle. Today I will provide a quick, beginner’s flash modifiers guide which, I hope will take you one step further on the path to crafting natural looking artificial light for your indoor sessions.
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Why do I need a modifier?
The light that come directly out of your flash is narrow and harsh. I honestly think this is why many photographers shy away from using flash. We think back to the days of using point and shoot cameras with built in flash. The result was usually harsh, high contrast, and flashy for lack of a better term. You can probably remember squinting or wincing at the bright burst of light, which didn’t result in the most flattering of faces. Pointing your flash head directly at your subject, is essentially like shining a flash light right in their face. It isn’t flattering or comfortable.
In order to create flattering, soft and even light, your artificial light needs to be diffused and made larger. Light and airy natural light photographers like shooting during the golden hour and on cloudy days. Why? Because they don’t have to deal with harsh, direct sun. The sun is either diffused or spread out across the whole sky by clouds on an overcast day OR the low sun light wraps around the subject from behind and bounces off of reflective surfaces during the golden hour. In order to make your flash photographs look consistent with your outdoor photographs, you must figure out how to make your artificial light bigger and softer.
How do I modify my flash?
Now that we’ve covered the “why”, let’s consider the “how”. As I hinted at during my post on beginner’s off camera flash, one good option is to “bounce” your flash. This simply means you turn your flash head so that it points at a surface that can then reflect light onto our subject. This will make the light bigger and softer. For this to work, the surface will need to be white. Otherwise, you risk affecting the color of your subjects skin tones by causing a “color cast” (i.e. bouncing off a blue wall will cause your subjects skin to look blue in tone.) White ceilings or walls are a great option for this. Windows are one of my favorite options. You can already see how the light coming through the window is illuminating your subject. Adding a flash that bounces off of the window simply amplifies the effect.
Another option for modifying your flash is adding an umbrella to diffuse the light. As a photographer with a light and airy aesthetic, I opt for a white shoot through umbrella, removing the black cover that comes with it. When choosing an umbrella, remember that bigger umbrellas with result in softer light. Believe it or not, there are 7ft umbrellas that you can purchase. These are a great option if you are planning on using your flash for studio work. Because a lot of my work takes place in client’s homes, where there may not be a lot of extra space for my set up, I most frequently utilize a 60 inch white umbrella. (Find the umbrella I use here: https://amzn.to/3k0Erit).
There are actually two ways you can set up your umbrella. The dome of the umbrella can face your subject with the flash placed behind the umbrella, firing in the direction of your subject. They can also be turned in the opposite direction with the flash firing away from the subject. When using this method, add a diffuser to the rim of the umbrella. (Linked here: https://amzn.to/3xBFopr)
It’s time to practice modifying your flash again. Bouncing it off of the ceiling and windows again now that you know the reason behind this method. Practice setting up an umbrella with or without a diffuser. (Note: when purchasing an umbrella for your flash, you will also need to purchase an adapter that will hold your flash and umbrella.) Move the umbrella closer and further from your subject and observe the effect.
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