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How to Shoot with your First Flash

Lesson 13 of 28

Philosophy of Single Flash

Mike Hagen

How to Shoot with your First Flash

Mike Hagen

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Lesson Info

13. Philosophy of Single Flash

Lesson Info

Philosophy of Single Flash

So let me transition now into a little bit of philosophy philosophy of single flash photography. So the assumption here is that you own a flash, you own one flash and so the quandary is how do I use that flash, do I use it on the camera body, do I use it off the camera body, how do I make it look good. You've all taken photos I know everyone in this room has taken a photo of your mother or your wife or your husband and was like kapow, and then the background is this funky shadow, how do I wrangle this thing? So we need to think through what's your primary reason for the photo. Is your primary reason I need to be mobile and lathe, l-a-t-h-e lathe, quick, you know, active, then you're probably going to want to go with on-camera flash. It's all one unit you don't have to bring a light stand and a box and all that and if it is on-camera flash then, then you have to think about how do I manage that light so it isn't blasting the subject. Is your intent that you get a really high end profess...

ional look, you get nice modeling light on a good reflector, you want full control well then you need to get off-camera, then you're going to be spending more time, a little bit more money, and a little bit more effort. So again think of what your motive is, your motive is going to help determine how you use that flash on-camera or off-camera. You also have to think about do I want direct light, the harshest hardest light you'll ever shoot is right out of that flash head, it's like a tube of light, firehouse of light, sometimes that looks good, most of the time it doesn't. There are few people that can get away with very hard light photography, you have to really know what you're doing and really have a reason and a purpose for doing that. Most of us want to diffuse the light, that's the key, diffuse, diffuse, diffuse. And what do I mean by that? I mean shine that flash into a reflector, shine that flash into an umbrella, bounce if off of the wall, bounce it off the ceiling, bounce it off the floor so the light hits that thing and then grows big and soft and beautiful. I sound like I'm telling a child's story. It was a big and soft and beautiful light, gorgeous. And that's really what we want, we want to diffuse the light and especially towards the latter half of today I'm going to show you how we do that and do that really well. So you got to think about modifiers, umbrellas, diffusion domes, even something like this will dramatically improve the look and the feel of your photo. So there isn't always a rule on-camera or off-camera, you'll hear people all the time especially in the pro photography industry telling you you're an idiot unless you shoot off-camera flash, you don't know what you're doing if you're doing on-camera flash. I want to dispel that myth today and I want to say it's okay to shoot on-camera as long as you diffuse and you go with indirect lighting and I'll show you how we do that in the next segment for sure. So on-camera flash, you know with on-camera flash this is basically what you get, don't shoot like this. I'm going to tell you it's okay to shoot with on-camera flash but rather what I want you to do is I want you to take that flash head and I want you to flip it up and I want you to bounce it off the ceiling or at a minimum most of these flashes have a little bounce card in the back, this one doesn't, but if you got a little piece of paper, you just tape that paper to it, that alone will make a dramatic difference in the look and the feel and the quality. In the very early part of the morning when Kenna was introducing, I was actually shooting over here and if you were paying attention you noticed that I actually had a cable or I had a little diffusion card and I'm bouncing it off the side, I'm trying to find a way to get the flash over to the side, so I could've just bounced it off the wall or I could bring in a little reflector and shoot it off the top of the reflector, I'm always trying to not shoot direct. And that's the key to great flash photography, don't shoot direct on-camera flash, find a way, left, right, up, down. In fact that's the whole next segment, the whole next segment is learning how to do that well. Never set your remote down, that's the other key to good flash photography. How about this, off-camera flash, really that's where the money's at. If you want to be a pro, if you're going to be a professional photographer, if you're going to do this for a living, if you're doing this to photograph your family for posterity sake then you really need to understand how to do off-camera flash and it's actually not that hard. Because everything you learn with on-camera flash, exposure, TTL, manual, shutter speed, aperture, all of that still applies to off-camera flash, the only difference is the light happens over here rather than on the camera. So everything you learn from on-camera flash is directly attributable to off camera. The general consensus is that this is the best type of lighting and I would agree with that. You'll see that today, it gives you the most flexibility. You can now shape the light, you control it, you are the boss of the light. And that's why off-camera flash is so powerful. You're going to have to invest in some modifiers, the least expensive modifier is an umbrella, 20 bucks, 30 bucks and now you've just taken your light to the next level. So if you do off-camera flash you have to find a way to trigger the light. So maybe that way is optical, I'll show you what that means explain what optical triggers do, maybe it's an OEM solution, maybe like Nikon or Canon, they have off-camera flash wireless flash technology I'll go through those today. Third party, there's lots of third party little triggers, you've seen them all before, companies like Odin, companies like Pocket Wizard, there's a lot of these different types of solutions, I'll cover one of those today show you a very inexpensive solution to that. And then just plain old traditional slave, you can do a slave trigger, no technology really involved, most flashes have a built in slave and they'll just bing they'll pop when they see another light. And then other types of remotes. So we're going to go through those but if you do off-camera flash you have to figure out how you're going to trigger that thing, so I'm going to give you solutions today that vary from about $9 up to a few hundred dollars and they all work well. Some other discussion around the philosophy of light, you have to think about what you want from your light. Hard light, do you want hard light, there's a time and a place for hard light, sports, harsh shadows, maybe some fashion photography, I'm thinking of some famous photographers right now who do a lot of hard light photography and it is cool when it is done well. So only use hard light like bare bulb flash light when you know you want that look, it's really not that flattering. Oh man especially if your subject has got a little bit of crows feet going on here, a little bit of double chin there, big forehead, whatever. Hard light is not going to make that person look good, it shows all the imperfections, it shows the zits and the pock marks and the five o'clock shadow. And those are all things that you don't want to show off, it's usually an aggressive look, so it's a style, it's a style of photography and it's okay to shoot hard light, just know that it's a style, it has it's own time and place.

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.