Direct Flash Photography: How to Give Your Photos a 70s Punk Rock Look

Pye Flash

Take one look at an American Apparel catalog and you’ll see it: a 70s punk rock look that makes each photo look a little more interesting. Pye Jirsa brings that look to his portrait photography through the use of direct flash. When done correctly, photos will have that stylistic look seen in many celebrity photographs.

As half of Lin & Jirsa Photography, Pye has been featured in numerous national magazines. As a team, Lin & Jirsa Photography was named the best wedding photographer in Los Angeles and in 2015, Brandsmash listed them among the top 100 wedding photographers in the country. Pye conducted a workshop at CreativeLive’s Photo Week 2015 on using direct flash to create that American Apparel look.

Adjusting Shutter Speed

The direct flash look can be seen in a large number of places, including many celebrity photos. It creates an editorial look that takes traditional portraiture to an all-new level. The look is created through the use of direct flash. The first step to creating that stylistic look is to adjust the exposure setting on your camera to eliminate any ambient light.

To demonstrate, Pye adjusted his shutter speed. At around 1/200 of a second F28 ISO 100, the ambient light is mostly gone. This is the perfect opportunity to use E-TTL, Pye points out, but he still prefers to do it manually because he knows the flash power will be consistent every time.

Pye Flash 2

Eliminating Shadows

Unfortunately, direct flash all too often introduces shadows into the wrong places in the photo. That shadow makes the photo look less natural, taking away from the look the photographer is trying to create. This is only enhanced when the photographer twists his camera to the side, as Pye did during his demonstration. Pye has found a simple way around that.

“This is a twenty-dollar bracket,” Pye says, removing a bracket from his camera bag. “It’s called a Vello bracket.”

Once the photographer attaches the Vello bracket, along with a Vello cable, the flash stays in the same place. This places the shadow where it belongs, making the photo look more natural.

Shot Varieties

Pye points out that there are various looks that can be achieved using a flash. The looks photographers can create include:

– Ambient light only

– Bouncing the flash to get a soft light

– Flash off to the side

– Direct flash

“Every kind of light can look perfect,” Pye says. “We photographers tend to harp on things like the quality of light. You’ll notice that your clients couldn’t care less. Does the image look cool, does their expression look good, do they like it, do they look flattering in it?”

With the right combination of factors, photographers can create a photo their clients will love. For his demonstration, Pye had his model dress in clothing that added to the 70s-style look he was creating with his direct flash technique. By bringing all of these factors together, photographers can create portraits that will enhance their portfolios and win client approval.

View more flash photography instructional videos from Pye Jirsa here.

Stephanie Faris

Stephanie Faris is the Simon & Schuster author of 30 Days of No Gossip, 25 Roses, and the upcoming Piper Morgan series.