“I have never used a flash.” That was a statement from a young photographer just starting to photograph weddings of her friends. She had stopped by to purchase a lens hood (very good idea for any lens) and while we talked she asked about how I dealt with contrasting shadows on sunny days and if a polarizing filter might help her get rid of them.
Polarizing light with a polarizing filter will reduce glare in the sky and on reflective surfaces like water and windows, but it doesn’t reduce shadows or contrast. It will decrease the amount of overall light coming through a lens. A polarizing filter light will polarize light reaching the lens from any angle, but directly in front of, or behind the photographer. However, using a polarizer won’t noticeably affect her wedding photographs other than to maybe darken the sky behind the wedding couple.
I told her that I always use a flash indoors and outdoors when photographing people and she said “even in bright sunlight?” I use the flash to fill or reduce the shadows caused by bright sunlight. Modern TTL (through the lens) flash technology is easy to use and almost fool proof and the days of calculating flash power are long gone.
Many photographers mistakenly think the only time to use a flash in a darkened room. And even then rely on high ISO settings when shooting low light. ISO stands for International Standards Organization and determines the sensitivity to light for which sensor is set.
I think relying on high ISO settings is great for those long shots inside the gym during basketball games or when capturing wide church interiors, but closer pictures of people with mixed lighting coming from overhead leave unflattering shadows and odd colours.
My camera is fitted with a flash bracket that lifts the flash about six inches above the lens. The camera hotshoe places the flash close and directly over the lens. A close proximity that usually causes an effect called “red eye” – the appearance of red pupils in the eyes, as well as harsh unbecoming light. Moving the flash away from the lens helps to reduce that effect, and when I move in close for photographs I place a diffuser over my flash to spread and soften the light.
I have control to balance the light over my subject with the shutter, aperture and ISO. Balancing the light so those individuals are slightly brighter than the surrounding area and without the background to go black.
My flash is connected to the camera with a power cord that fires it when the shutter is released. I can remove it and point the flash in any direction I want; bouncing the light off walls, the floor and, if I want, higher than the people sitting in front of me. I can leave them in low light while the flash is at arms length, from an angle to the side or from above the individuals I am photographing.
When I learned to use a flash many years ago it changed the quality of my photography. I no longer had to rely only on uncontrollable ambient light and I began to notice my subjects had more “pop” and seemed sharper than those without the flash as I learned to add light to subjects.
Just like the control I gain by using different focal length lenses, the flash allows me to add light to what would otherwise be a flat image, improving the quality of my photographs and separating my photography from those who do not to use flash.