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A Word About Flash

Flash gets a bad name, mainly because of the less-than-stellar results of on-camera flash. On-camera flash is like using the headlights of your car to illuminate your subject. They will get the job done, but the result won’t look good. Because all the light is coming from directly in front of your subject and the light is so close to the lens, the result is a harsh, flat, and sometimes red-eyed image that could be mistaken for a mug shot like the before photo in FIGURE 4.1.

FIGURE 4.1

FIGURE 4.1 Before: On-camera flash creates harsh background shadows and flattens out your subject.

ISO 100, 1/200 sec., f/13, 70–200mm lens

If you love the look of depth and dimension in your portraits—the type of light that highlights the texture in the skin and hair of your subject—like the boy in FIGURE 4.2, get that flash off your camera.

FIGURE 4.2

FIGURE 4.2 After: An off-camera flash provides a dimensional light that enhances your subject.

ISO 100, 1/200 sec., f/13, 70–200mm lens

Just getting your flash off your camera is no guarantee that the photo will look good. Everyone can agree that off-camera lighting can go horribly wrong; just take a look at your kid’s most recent school photos or any photo taken by the big chain portrait studios located in a department store near you (which shall remain nameless, but you know which ones they are).

Get that flash off your camera.

Those high-volume portrait studios have done nothing to further the art of portraiture. The trend of poorly lit photos of kids in matching outfits posed in a triangle on a mottled blue muslin backdrop deserves to fade away—forever.

However, just because someone did a bad job with the tools doesn’t mean the tools are bad. It’s not the tools but how they are used that makes the difference. The types of lights used to photograph all those scary kid photos are the very same lights that have created gorgeous editorial images in Vogue and Vanity Fair magazines. These are the same lights used to photograph ads for companies you love, like The Gap and J. Crew.

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