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How to Shoot with your First Flash

Lesson 15 of 28

Shoot: Common Mistakes

Mike Hagen

How to Shoot with your First Flash

Mike Hagen

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Lesson Info

15. Shoot: Common Mistakes

Lesson Info

Shoot: Common Mistakes

So first things first. I talked about bouncing the light. So, we're gonna do that. We're gonna, even though the ceiling's really high here, I just wanna show what it looks like when you try to bounce the light of the ceiling when the ceiling's far away, alright. Let's go, and we'll go back to the light room here. We'll take a picture, one, two, three. So this, it's all still TTL, right, still TTL. And here, I'm bouncing off the ceiling. So what do we see? Well we see dark shadows under the eyes, you know, we see kind of even light. We don't really get a lot of catch light in the eyes. If the ceiling was probably eight or nine feet, this would be better, but when you bounce up expect to get deep shadows under the eyes, just like we have here on him. So, just know that, especially for women. Women just don't like dark bags under the eyes. I don't know why men are okay with it, no they're really not, but for women you want to be careful about bouncing straight up. Okay, so that was not a ...

good solution for this room. Again, I'm just showing what not to do. Well, lets start talking about what to do. One thing that you can do, is start bouncing of the side. Now, the wall over here is quite some distance away. I'm gonna say it's 10 feet away, but it could work. Lets just see what happens when I bounce off the wall over there. Okay so, one, two, three, nice. Pffff. Okay, so already, even in a not so great environment, or not so great situation with on camera flash, we're getting a much better photo. It's soft, it's big, this is this huge wall. Look we're starting to get a catch light in the eye, that's pretty cool. I'm gonna have you look this way a little bit more. So I'm gonna turn his face a little bit more towards the light, I'm gonna rotate this flash so that the face of the flash isn't hitting him. Actually that's quite important. You don't, really, ever want light from the face of the flash hitting your subject. So a lot of times, I'll just take my hand, or I'll even take a little, black piece of paper and flag it, so that the only light that hits him is from over there. So you don't want these harsh, direct light to hit him directly. Alright here we go, one, two, three. So I've got him turned a little bit more towards me. Try to get a little bit of fill on the face. Where do you think that shadows coming from? Right here. The shadows coming from here. I didn't flag it, and so that little shadow behind him, I didn't flag it. So I'll just take one more shot here and blocking it with my hand, and here we go, and now we shouldn't have a shadow on the back of his face, cool. So, I know a lot of flash photographers, people just like you, who are like yeah but I bounced the flash why do I still have a shadow? The reason why is because the face of the flash is still sending some light towards the subject, so do a good job of flagging that. Just a piece of paper and tape is all you need, or your hand. Alright, cool. So what else can we do, without spending any money? One of my favorite tools is the hand? So you can literally just use your hand, like this, and we can take a shot like that, one, two, three. You'll see the color change, you'll see his face get nice and warm now. See how it warmed right up, and that's all because we're actually gelling or filtering the flash from my hand, but that, you know, not perfect, but it's better. Continuing to improve, okay. Let's now grab a reflector. Just wanna show you a variety of reflectors. So, starting with a little bit of a small one here, this is probably, I don't know, one, two, three, this is like a 32 inch, something like that, 30 inch reflector. This is the minimum size you should ever buy. Don't ever buy a reflector smaller than like 30 inches. In fact, I would just go out and say don't buy anything smaller than like a 42 inch, or a 45 inch reflector. Bigger is always better in flash photography, especially with portraiture, so I like having the big reflectors. This is again like a 30 something inch. This one here, does it say? Ah, this is a 47 inch, so this is about the size of reflector that I would recommend. This is a high end reflector, this is made by a company called Profoto. They make excellent, excellent camera gear. Excellent photo lighting equipment, this is fantastic, it's got handles in there. The differences is that smaller reflectors and third party reflectors are like $20, this is not $20. This is a lot more than $20, this is 100s of dollars, but it'll never break, and you know, it's high end pro gear, but I like the size. You can buy inexpensive reflectors around this size on Amazon for probably 30 to $40? I like that size reflector, and then I also, I always travel with big reflectors. It's 'cause I've been doing this a long time, and I know big is good. This is basically almost a six foot reflector. Really am I gonna travel with this? Well, the more you shoot, the more you realize that big is better. So I don't mind shooting with this, you can bounce off of it, you can shoot through it, such a great tool, and this is made by a company called Lastolite. I love their products, it's a diffusion panel, basically a light panel. I won't really shoot with this 'cause it's hard to wrangle if you're just kind of a one man band, so I'll fold this back up, hopefully not embarrass myself as I fold it. Ding, cool. So I'm gonna shoot here with this middle size, and I use the term middle size, and now you understand why, this is a medium size reflector as far as I'm concerned. It feels big to the uninitiated but you'll be happy that you bought a bigger reflector. So now what I wanna do is I wanna take this hard flash, and I wanna send it into this reflector, and sometimes this can be a little bit hard to do if you're just a one person show, but I wanna show you how to pull it off and do it without embarrassing yourself. If you wanna bounce it off the top, sometimes I'll shoot like this, it looks silly, everyone laughs at me, but I get really great shots. So what I'm doing is I'm just checking my flash and making sure it's gonna hit up there, and here we go, one, two, three. Let's see what that looks like. We're getting better, see the catch light's getting even bigger, that's cool. How 'bout to the side, can we shoot off the side? Well you have to kind of set this up ahead of time. So let's see, I'm gonna hold the thing with my left hand, so I gotta get the flash, gotta turn it off to the left side, just like that, and we're gonna end up going something about like this. Now remember you don't want the light from the front of the flash to hit him, so I'm kinda watching to make sure that it's not sending like forward to him. So maybe go a little bit hard angle like that, and go ahead and look right at the camera, one, two, three. It's a little bit tight on the shot, I wanna go a little bit looser, and we're getting that shadow behind him, but you can see we're just, we're working the light, we're trying to make it softer and more gentle. I'm gonna have you, if you could, would you come forward and bring the stool with you a little bit farther away from the wall? Yup, perfect. The farther away I get from the wall, the more control I have over where that shadow falls. Sometimes the shadow's okay, sometimes it's not, it's just up to you, one, two, three. Let's look the angles that I have here. Notice I'm pretty close to him, and people are actually a lot of times uncomfortable getting close to the model, but I can tell you that from the model's standpoint, just have the conversation and say hey, I'm gonna get in a little close here, don't mind this big ol' hunkin' thing in your face, just pay attention to the camera, smile at me, and as the session goes on, the model tends to forget where the lights are located, but just have that conversation, have the discussion ahead of time. Especially if you're photographing a dog or a kid, who's not used to this stuff, you know, work it in slowly, especially with kids you can have a conversation with, dogs are a little harder, but you know. Maybe have this thing kinda set up, and put some food on the floor for the dog, and then the dog gets comfortable to that scenario. So I am close, the other thing to consider is how close should your flash be to the reflector, we're always thinking through that. The closer your flash is, actually the smaller the surface area that you'll end up using. So you kinda wanna make it so that you're kinda filling the reflector with the flash, let's see if I can pull this off. That button, there we go. See how I can kinda, when I'm here the flash uses a small percentage of the reflector, and when I'm back here it uses much more of the surface area of the reflector. What I'm doing there is I'm hitting my modeling light button, most flashes have a modeling light function, and on my Nikon, I can actually program a button to activate my modeling light. That's a really cool way to learn flash photography placement, yeah. So I can say hey Andre, look at me, and then I can do my modeling light, and I can kinda look at his face, and say oh, I gotta catch light in the eye, or maybe I can see the shadow behind him, cool. Alrighty, so using a reflector like this, using a wall over there, using a ceiling up top, or something like that can really help you improve your flash photography. Now this is kinda heavy, it's hard to hold this over time, so you're always like I wanna bigger reflector but I don't wanna hold it, I don't know, work out at the gym more. Alright, great. One more, one, two, three. Nice smile, buddy, nice job. Nice, so it's not perfect, but it's much better than straight on direct flash, right? In fact, I think I like the previous one a little bit better, yeah, and look at the shadow behind him, it's nice and diffused, it's almost like it's not there. If the background was black, if you had a black backdrop, the shadow would almost, you wouldn't even see it. So that's something to also consider is you're doing this on camera flash photograph, you don't always have a lot of control over, you know, how the flash falls for the backdrop. So think about the brightness or the color of that background. If you have a white wall, you're almost always gonna be fighting the shadow. If you have a dark wall, well the shadow goes away, but you know, Andre wore a dark shirt, he may not actually stand out from the background if the background's black or dark, so think about contrast as well. So when I shoot straight on, or when I shoot flash like this, I always have a reflector with me, and I'm always trying to bounce it. I can bounce up, on top of your head, the trick for that is to hold it in such a way, I gotta get the right side, hold it such a way that you can control it. So I like to hold it so my thumb is pointed towards the top, and then I use my head as a balance point and hold it like that, with the flash pointed up. Eh, we'll do it like this. Alright here we go, one, two, three. Oh, my batteries are dead in my flash. Perfect timing, 'cause I wanna go to the next thing, which are light domes, while I'm doing that and I'm changing the battery, I wanna talk about silver reflector versus white reflector. I like using white, white is much softer, much gentler, and much kinder. Silver a lot of times is much harsher and the shadow in the background will actually be quite defined, so silver's more of like a fashion look, kind of a high value, high intensity look. Alrighty, my batteries are over here, and let me talk about batteries, because that's a big deal. I use nickel-metal hydrides, I buy them online. There's a ton of places you can buy them. You can even buy them at your local kind of big box store, but just get nickel-metal hydrides. I buy them in bulk and then I recharge them regularly, I recharge them, you know. These will probably last us another hour, hour and a half of regular shooting. I just throw them in the charger, and I've had these specific ones for a couple of years, maybe three years, and they just keep on working. Another option is just to buy regular alkalines, but you know we're up in the north west, we have to recycle here, it's a state law so don't buy disposable batteries, buy rechargeables. Again, nickel-metal hydrides, the new lithium double As are cool, I like them as well, but they're much more expensive, you can actually get the nickel-metal hydrides for about buck, maybe a $1.50 a cell, where as the lithiums are much more like 4 to $5, last time I checked.

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.