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How to Shoot with your First Flash

Lesson 7 of 28

Camera Setup: Aperture

Mike Hagen

How to Shoot with your First Flash

Mike Hagen

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Lesson Info

7. Camera Setup: Aperture

Lesson Info

Camera Setup: Aperture

Now lets talk about aperture. So we've set our shutter speed already. I'm just kind of keeping you up to date with where we're at. We've set our shutter speed for what we want to do, maybe we're in the woods or maybe we're in the studio. The next thing is now we need to think through aperture. So aperture controls a number of things in flash photography. Of course aperture controls what we're used to, which is depth of field, right. But aperture also controls how much flash, how many photons from the flash come into the camera. So lets say your flash is set for some constant power rating, we'll just use some number, so it's maybe half power. So lets say your flash is sitting here and it's gonna pump out half power of light. Pow! Does shutter speed control how much of that comes into the camera? He says yes, maybe, I see some no's. Well the answer is no, shutter speed doesn't impact that. Because, remember, your shutter speed is like this. And how long is the flash pulse? Like this, so ...

the amount of light from the flash is always the same really, regardless of your shutter speed. So that's a great learning, that's a really technical thing. But it's fabulous for you to understand that more shutter speed or less shutter speed doesn't really impact how much brightness from the flash comes in. It's all about that aperture. So I'm thinkin about the song, ♫ It's all about that aperture, that aperture So, and think about it this way, from your eyes, you know if you squint, you're like reducing the amount of light and if you open up you're allowing more light in. And the same thing with the aperture, okay? So a big aperture lets in a, whoa. Almost dropped my Don't do that. So a big aperture lets in like almost all the light from your flash. Whereas a small aperture kinda squeezes it out, eliminates light. So if your flash is always putting out a constant power, you control that power with your aperture. So we're also thinking about depth of field. If you're doing portrait photography and you want to make the background blurry, what aperture would you typically use to do that? Small number, big hole, yeah exactly. I heard 1.4, great, fantastic. So if you want to blur out the background, you want to use a big aperture, like f/1.4, f/2.8. How about if you're shooting a group? You know later today I'm gonna pull some people from the audience and we're gonna do a quick group photo. What if you wanna do, you want the person in front to be in focus and the person in back to be in focus? What aperture do you need for that? F/8, f/11, kind of a smaller aperture. Okay, cool. So we have to be thinking two things with aperture as we're doing this flash photography. The first one is, do our flashes have enough oomph, power, at f/8? And do I have enough depth of field to get everything in focus. So that's the fight, the real fight in flash photography is all about aperture. And you're just trying to get enough depth of field to get stuff in focus but then the little flashes from Nikon and Canon don't have a lot of power, and so, you'll find me struggling with this all day today. I'm gonna be talking through it. I'm gonna be like I need more depth of field but the flash is pumping out full power. It's like Scotty on Star Trek, "I'm givin it all she's got." (audience chuckles) I ain't got no more! And so you're like, ah shoot, I can't go to f/11, I have to stay at f/8, or I have to even maybe go to f/5.6 to allow more light from that flash to come into the camera. So for your, you know the class is titled "Shooting With Your First Flash". I'm guessing most people watching today, and most people here in the audience, have one flash. And so if you have one flash and you're trying to do great flash photography, you need to keep your apertures kind of in this range. F/2.8 to f/5.6 and I know some of you are lookin at me like, "I don't even own an f/2.8 lens." Fine. I brought a kit lens. This is basically an inexpensive kit lens. It's an f/5.6 when it's zoomed all the way out. So I'm gonna do most of my shooting today with the type of camera and the type of gear that most people will be using and most people in the virtual audience will also be using. I wanna show you, you can shoot at f/5. and still use these flashes. I do have other lenses, like this one, this is a great little lens. It's a little f/1.8, 50 millimeter f/1.8. Canon, Nikon, Fuji, everyone sells one of these little lenses; they're fantastic. A super inexpensive way, like $100, $150, super inexpensive way to get f/1.8 type stuff and so now your flash has become really flexible when you have aperture like that. Why would you not want to shoot, with these little flashes, why would you not want to shoot at f/11, f/16, f/22? Power. The flashes just can't pump enough light into the seam at f/16 or f/22. Sometimes they can, in the right situations they can, but just know, in general, keep your apertures wider rather than smaller. Keep your apertures more open to allow more light from those flashes to come in. Some stuff you have to think through is focus and depth of field, and you're always thinking through that. So those are the, that's the difficult balance point and I think over time as you get to know your flash better, as you get to know your camera system better, that's what you'll be struggling with probably the most. Cool. So that's aperture, again, f/2.8 to f/5.6. We'll try to stay there today and I'll do a couple experiments, if I remember, to do something like f/11, f/16, and you'll see we may not have enough power from the flash to make it work. What if your subject is off in the distance? So, you know, you're outside and it's a little hidden, instead of somebody that you're metering for their for them right in front of you, they're out there, but still kind of like Red Riding Hood Yes! has ridden off that way. Okay, so you probably are not going to like my answer. And my answer is get closer, okay? And you don't, here's the cool thing about flash photography: you don't have to get the camera closer. What do you have to get closer? The flash. You gotta get the strobes closer to the subject. So lets, I'm imagining you're maybe shooting at a sporting event or someone's far away or you're behind a gate or whatever, if you can get your flash close to the subject, like if this is my subject, and lets say I'm 100 feet away, or even 20 feet away, if I can get my flash here, three or four feet away, no worries, I'm going to illuminate that. And we see great examples of that all the time. You'll see kind of this big scene, I see it at wedding, wedding photographers do this quite a bit, they put the subject in front of the cathedral out front and they're little people, big cathedral but they look gorgeous. They're illuminated and lit up very, very well. What you'll notice a lot of times, they're on a corner, they're on a corner of the framing, well why wouldn't they be in the middle? Why are they on the corner? Well cause they had to get the lights in close to em, right? And so that's how you do it. If you get your lights close, you can still be far away. And I know that it isn't always practical to do that. I'm thinking like the NCAA Final Four just happened, right, March Madness, not too long ago. And so how do they get flash photography when they're sitting at one end of the basketball court and they're 100 feet away but they're still illuminated with flash? Well in that case, they're putting these giant flashes up in the rafters of the stadium. So it's all about quantity of light or, if you don't have a lot of quantity of light, then you have to get close to the subject with the flash equipment. Does that help, does that answer? Kinda? Yeah, I was thinking sort of, like I said, the Red Riding Hood scenario, but also I take some photos of like birds and things like that. Ahh. And so outside. And so it'd be kind of hard to sort of run forward with and place your flash. Yeah that is true. Okay cool, that helps me a lot. Bird photography, so I have two solutions for you, and I won't be able to show them in detail today, but solution one is what's called a flash extender, or a fresnel lens. And what you can do is you can mount the cam, you can mount the flash right here on the camera, put that fresnel lens on there, and then it really, what it does is it culimates, or it focuses the light so all the light from the flash goes out into this narrow beam. So it's like on-camera flash and it just, there's no real like shaping or design, it just hits the bird, knocks it over and then it dies. I'm saying that because it doesn't look all that flattering. You generally want to do it just for a little kiss of light or a little catch light in the eye. The other solution is if you're at home, and you have a bird feeder, well then set up a lighting system around that bird feeder. Let the birds get used to it over time and now you can put panels out there, strobes. And it sounds funny but I know lots of bird photographers who do this. What a great, especially hummingbird photography, you have to set up like four flashes to freeze that motion. And so that's another option. If you have control over it, set it up days in advance and just wait until something comes into the frame.

Class Description

Short on time? This class is available HERE as a Fast Class, exclusively for Creator Pass subscribers.

Every photographer encounters situations where the light on their subject is less than ideal. A small flash can have a huge impact on your photos and is easier to use than you think! Photographer Mike Hagen joins CreativeLive to show you how to use your external flash quickly and comfortably. Mike will walk through the different flash options available and how to sync your camera and flash. He’ll walk you through different scenarios and demonstrate how your flash can improve your shots. After this class you’ll walk away knowing: 
  • How to set up your flash with your camera and what to look for when shooting 
  • How to use a flash in scenarios like event photography, portraits, and tabletop photography 
  • Which light shapers work best for your work and how to utilize them 
  • How to use your flash off-camera, working with TTL cables, wireless triggers, and other gear
  • Techniques for using modifiers like umbrellas, softboxes, and reflectors with your off-camera flash 
Don’t get stuck in a low light scenario without the confidence and tools you need to produce an amazing image. 

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Single Flash Lighting Diagrams

Bonus Materials with RSVP

Single Flash Gear List 100 dollars

Single Flash Gear List 250 dollars

Single Flash Gear List 1000 dollars

Ratings and Reviews

Student Work

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Yasemin Soyen

First of all I am very happy to discover Creative Live and since then I learned, enjoyed many classes! This week for the first time I was in the live audience and their sincerity, hospitality made the experience even more valuable. About this class, it was a pleasure to meet Mike Hagen. Besides his wide knowledge, creative thinking and information sharing, he was a very humble, nice teacher, with great positive energy. Thanks everyone!


Fantastic course - Mike is an engaging and entertaining teacher and this course was just what I needed to start using my external flash with confidence. I have had my external flash for a few years but have rarely used it as mastering all the settings was daunting and the results I got were inconsistent. This excellent course changed all that and I'm having great fun taking much better shots with my flash. I highly recommend!

Candy Smith

This class was fantastic. Mike is excellent under pressure when things don't go perfectly, love his style and grace and how encouraging he is to his models, great mentor. I learned so much about using flash, and my pictures are so much better.