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« Photographing Christmas Lights | Main | Use flare creatively to make better photographs »

How to use portable flash 

Use portable flash to make better picturesEven with the ability of cameras to shoot at higher ISO speeds, often the issue in making a successful photograph is more about directing the light than simply capturing what light is there.

I've worked with studio strobes for over thirty years, refining my approach to creating dramatic images along the way. The introduction of sophisticated portable flash units and radio control transmitters has opened up a whole new world, though.  That's because it is easier than ever to bring along supplemental lighting in a small kit, and under the right circumstances have the operation of the flash become quick, and simple.

In the world of studio strobes, we have to take a meter reading of the light, make an exposure, then adjust the power of the studio strobe to make compensations.  Depending on the location and position of the lights, that running back and forth can take a lot of time.

But with dedicated portable flash, the camera can communicate with the flash so adjustments to the output can be controlled right from where you are shooting.  

Here's a great example.  I was scouting locations in an old building for a shoot with a female bodybuilder.  I found this wonderful stairwell, but the light was falling in a way where she would not be lit and still have good exposure for the background.

Available light only

I placed one Canon 580EXII unit on a light stand at the top of the stairs, atop a Pocket Wizard Flex TT5, with the flash zoomed out to 105mm to narrow the beam of the light.  I placed a second Pocket Wizard Flex TT5 in the hot shoe of my Canon 5D MkII to fire the flash at the same time the shutter was tripped.

Single Canon 580 EX II portable flashThis approach can be done in a simpler, less expensive way, using a cord that connects the camera to the flash.  A good resource for that is FlashZebra, which sells cords for the different camera manufacturers in a variety of lengths.

Placing the portable flash for dramatic effect

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