How to Shoot with your First Flash


Lesson Info

Considerations for On-Camera Flash

Well let's get into now on-camera flash. We're gonna take some photos of our fabulous model Andre. He's gonna come up here. Actually Andre, why don't you come on set. We'll introduce you and then you can be on set while I'm talking through some of this. Want to say hi to Andre? (applauding) Yeah. Cool. So this is fairly low key. He's just going to hang out here for a while. I'm gonna be shooting some test shots. We're tethered today so you'll be able to see the photos that I create in real time. Again, this is on-camera flash, and so I want to start out with a little bit of philosophy and then I want to show you what not to do. I already told Andre the first photos I take of him are gonna be horrible, okay? They are not portfolio photos. You don't want to put them on your website. Please don't. And if you do, don't put my name next to them. I already talked about that. And then, we're gonna just get better. I'm gonna show you how we can take great photos using on-camera flash, but we'r...

e going to bring in reflectors and light domes, and we're going to play with lots of toys. Cool? Alrighty. Let's talk about considerations for on-camera flash. Do. This is something I want you to do. I want you to bounce, bounce, bounce, and I want you to diffuse, diffuse, diffuse. Okay? Always think to that. How can I bounce this light? How can I diffuse the light? How can I make the light softer? How can I make it look like, even though I have on-camera flash, how can I make it look like the light came from somewhere else? How can I send the light over here so it reflects on to Andre there? See that? Or how can I send the light up or maybe up and down? How can I set up this little studio where I've got maybe a clamshell-type of look, and it's light, light, and just soft and gentle? Never shoot direct flash. In fact, in just a second here, I'm going to show you what that looks like. It's kind of a deer in headlights look, and it's shiny skin, oily. It's very unflattering. I often think that this looks like those old 1970s rock and roll magazine photographs. You see this guy smoking a cigarette, and he's lounging on the couch and just, pow! It's like this grab shot. Maybe there's a time and place for that, but that was back then, and this is now. You don't want your daughter to look like that. Trust me. On-camera flash, bounce, diffuse, and then try to figure out a way to send it off. Send it off to a reflector, send it off to the ceiling. Our ceilings here in the studio are a little bit too high for this to work. The ceilings here are probably 18 to 20 feet high. But in your house, you can sure do that. Definitely, you could bounce off the ceilings in your house. Let me show you a photo. You ready for this? It's going to hurt, but we're going to take a photo. All right, so before I do this, I want to just, again, walk you through the details of setting up the camera. Where do all your flash settings begin? In the camera. So let's do that together, okay? So I'll start here with aperture and shutter speed. Again, I'm going to be in manual exposure mode. I don't know if the cameras in the room want to see that, so I'm going to go to-- My aperture is F56, and I mentioned I'm shooting with a kit lens. This is the little Nikon 18-105. It's an inexpensive lens. It's pretty similar to what most people have. So, F56 is going to be my limit as I zoom in and out. Next is my shutter speed. So what shutter speed should I use if I want to exclude all the ambient light in the studio? High shutter speed. Yeah, exactly. This camera, I know, will synchronize up to a 250th of a second. So, I'm going to set a 250th of a second. Okay? 250. Right there. (pop noise) Cool. ISO. I didn't talk about ISO before, but typically, for these little flashes, you want your ISOs to be a little bit higher. I'm talking 400. I'm talking 800. It's a great place to be for small strobe flash photography. You start getting down to ISO 200 or 100, and now your flash is working really hard. The problems with a hard-working flash are it doesn't recycle quickly, so when you're trying to photograph, let's say your daughter or your pet chihuahua, and it's moving around and all active, you want to, like, picture, picture, picture. But with low ISO, sometimes the flash just can't recharge quickly enough, and you miss photographs. Again, 400, 800. So, I'm going to do that. I'm going to set my ISO, and set that for 400. Now, let me take a picture at ISO F56 at a 250th. I'm just going to take a picture with no flash. Okay? Any guesses on what this will look like? (camera shutter) Okay. Let's go to the tethered view. All right, I've got his eyes closed, but it's so dark that we can't even really tell, right? Let me take one with your eyes open. All right. (camera shutter) There we go. Nice. Okay, so how do I get this really dark studio look with just the person illuminated, but the studio dark? Well, this is basically how you do that. See, this is the first part of my exposure. Remember, I was telling you. Every photo with flash photography has two exposures. The ambient light exposure, and the flash exposure. Okay, so there's the ambient light exposure. What would I do if I wanted to make all the background, if I want to make that go all black, all dark? What would my options be? Reduce the aperture? And what's the other one I can do? ISO. So I can reduce my ISO. So let me do that. I'm going to keep my aperture at F56, but I'm going to reduce my ISO, and I'm going to bring that down to ISO-- Let's go all the way down to 100. I know I told you not to go there, but I'm going to go there just to show you what happens. Okay? Again, the same picture here at ISO 100, and now he should just be completely, almost completely dark, and I think that-- Did that get us completely dark? Almost completely dark. Yeah, good. Now I'm at a place where I can start controlling all the light on the scene, and since this is really an instructional class, let's go the other way. I want to challenge you all. How would I get a lot of ambient light into the photograph? You're right. (laughs) ISO. A little bit bigger aperture. Higher ISO, maybe a little bit longer shutter speed. Okay. So I'm going to do that. I'm going to increase my ISO here. I'll go ISO back to 400, and rather than shooting it at 250th, I'm going to shoot at a 60th. Why? I don't know. I just choose it. I'm just choosing it. Just to see what happens here. Okay, so now we're at a 160th of a second at ISO 400, and if you're paying attention closely on your own cameras, you'll be able to see your exposure line, and you can just see on that exposure line, oh, it says I'm about a middle brightness exposure, now we're going to get lots of house lights, lots of ambient light. All right, so this one, this is going to count because you'll actually see your face. Okay? Much brighter. Still now really bright, but you can see now we're bringing in more of the house lights. Cool, and if I want even more house lights, again, higher ISO, longer shutter speed. Okay. For this first picture, let's set it up like we're shooting in a really dark room, and we just have flash, okay? Again, I keep challenging you all. All right, so I want the room to be really dark. That's a fast shutter speed. Okay. So I've got to increase my shutter speed. I'm going to go back up to a 250th, and that will actually cut out much of the house light. Cool. 250th. And just to remind everyone what that photo looks like, with no flash. There we go. Now the next thing I'm going to do is I'm going to start shooting with the flash. Okay. So, let's add the flash. So for this, I think I'm going to start in TTL mode. Just TTL, and just show you guys what the camera would typically do just out of the box. So I push the mode button, and I push mode again, and I go to TTL, and I push OK, and now I'm in TTL, and my exposure is at 0.0. Cool. Here we go. On-camera flash, and we'll take it. 1-2-3. (camera shutters) Let's see what that looks like. (laughs) You've seen that photo before because you've taken that photo before, right? Oh my gosh. Well, it's not a horrible photo. I mean, it's a good shot of Andre, I guess. It's exposed well. Right? It's actually exposed fairly well. Let me go to full screen so you can see it. What are the problems? Well, shadow. You've all seen that before. The shadow right behind him, and it's even worse if I go like vertical orientation. So we'll take that shot. (camera clicks) Nice. Look at the shadow coming off the side. (laughs) You've all taken that shot before, too. You see, on-camera flash, it really-- It just hurts. It's painful. You get a tiny little catch light in the eye. The skin's a little bit shiny. It's not so great. So we can do better. We can always do better. This is what not to do, but I like the exposure. I think the exposure's great. It's a good starting point, but we're going to do better with softening the blow. That's the whole goal here is to soften the blow. Also, hey, Andre, would you do something for me? Would you stand next to the wall? Just stand next to the wall. Yeah, that's perfect. So I'm going to take a shot like this with Andre next to the wall. (camera clicks) Okay, then come out this way. Yeah, about right there. Perfect. And we'll take that shot. (camera clicks) Okay. You can grab a seat again. Thank you. Just want to show you the difference between how close to the wall, what the shadow does when you're close to the wall. When you're close, the shadow is very defined. It's a hard shadow. When you're farther away from the wall, the shadow drops down a little bit, and the shadow's softer. It's almost impossible to not get a shadow when you're shooting like this, really. Because there's only one way the light can go, and that's to him and right back into the lens. I'm going to show you how to manage the shadow in a little bit, but one of the key tips is make sure your subject is probably five feet to eight feet away from the wall, and that way, sometimes, you can get the shadow to fall away. I'll show you how we do that, by bouncing the light off to the edge.

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. 



  • 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!
  • 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.
  • Mike, is a fantastic instructor. I have taken other flash photography classes, but I find Mikes’ to be the best laid out, clear and concisely demonstrated class, with great detail and not overly "techy" terms to confuse the listener. Though lots of technical information is shared, it is done in a way anyone can understand and follow along. Great examples explained, to help apply what we are learning to real life scenarios. Like Rear Sync Curtain explanation, really helped distinguish the difference and why.
 Great sense of humour too!
 Hope Mike, will be back to teach more classes, maybe a sequel… one on multi flash use? 
~ Christine