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How to Shoot with your First Flash

Lesson 16 of 28

Shoot: Using Domes

Mike Hagen

How to Shoot with your First Flash

Mike Hagen

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Lesson Info

16. Shoot: Using Domes

Lesson Info

Shoot: Using Domes

The next thing that I want to talk about is start going into domes and diffusions and kind of on-camera flash diffusion products, okay. So let's start with domes. Now we'll go to the presentation materials. There are all kinds of domes that you can use. There are the diffusion domes that you get from the camera manufacturer. This one actually dropped on the ground. It was below zero so it cracked, so I have a little tape on there. But the domes actually work fairly well. So this one, I'll just call free. This one came with your flash probably. If you didn't get one of these domes with your flash, you can buy them and they're really inexpensive. They're like under $10. I've seen them anywhere from five to 10 bucks, okay. So that's the idea with the dome. Simple Nikon or Canon dome. They're easy to use, they're lightweight, they travel in your pocket and they help. They actually help quite a bit. I call these light grenades though, and why? The reason why is because a grenade actually ju...

st explodes everywhere and that's what these light domes do. You don't really get directional control with a dome. Some people shoot with their domes straight. I don't and the reason why is because that's not that much different than just straight direct flash. I like the dome to kind of go up and then bounce around the room just kind of like a grenade would, alright. Bigger is better. If you can get a bigger dome, then get a bigger dome. So I'm gonna shoot a picture with this dome and then I'm also gonna show what that might look like with a slightly bigger dome. But here's the thing with domes. I'm talking about a four-foot wide reflector and here we're looking at a six-inch wide dome. So you're not gonna get like really nice soft diffuse light. I am gonna show you in a little bit how to do a group shot with these like in an event because sometimes you just can't walk around with those big reflectors so we do the best with what we've got. I like this type of dome. This is made by a company called Harbor Digital Design. But there's lots of similar types of products from these and I'll shoot with a couple of them here today. Okay, let's start with taking a picture with the dome. Alright, so again, everything else is the same here. I'm still in TTL, I'm still at zero point zero EV. And actually, it's pretty amazing. The camera's doing a good job of exposures today. I'm happy with what the camera's doing. You notice that I'm not changing brightness up and down. Let me see, make sure that we're still tethered and we are. Alright, so here's the dome shot. Notice the angle on the flash. We're shooting up a little bit into the ceiling, a little bit forward to him. Let's see what we get. Alright buddy, one, two, three, (camera clicks) nice shot. Let's see how it turned out. Alright, you've seen that photo before (chuckles). It's very similar to the direct flash. Slightly improved, though, slightly improved because the shadow is soft behind him. You know, if I really wanted to get rid of that shadow, I'd shoot it a little bit higher angle maybe. Let's try a little higher here. One, two, three (camera clicks). We're still gonna see the shadow behind him. Yeah, it's still there. How about if we did vertical? Because a lot of people think, well, what if I shoot vertical? Well, let's see, what do you think is gonna happen? Is there gonna be a shadow? Yeah, shadow's gonna be off the side. Okay, one, two, three, (camera clicks) nice. Yeah, shadow's still there. You know, I cropped tight so that it minimizes the effect of the shadow. Let me shoot a little bit looser so you can actually see what's going on. A little wider, okay, one, two, three (camera clicks). And here we'll have the shadow, yeah, shadow's there. It's the creative effect that I wanted, sure. So this leads me to a technique that I want you to learn. A lot of people shoot flash photography wider angle. And then they get frustrated because they don't get good exposure. Let me show you what I mean by that. So I'm gonna shoot this photo at 18 millimeters zoom, so that's a pretty wide angle zoom. And so basically it's gonna be his whole body and then I'm gonna get a lot of clutter here in the background. So here's what the camera does is the camera's looking at that scene. That was a nice pose, perfect, (chuckles), it's alright, okay. So here's what the camera's doing. The camera's saying, oh, you're in TTL mode and you're at this wide angle? Therefore, I have to illuminate everything. And so regardless really of what Andre's wearing, it's just trying to illuminate everything, the background, him, his dark shirt, his hair, his shoes, the floor. And that's why a lot of times, flash exposure's so unpredictable because we shoot with a wide angle and we're asking the flash to illuminate everything including the sunset, including the building, you know, whatever. So I recommend almost always, especially with this type of setup, that you shoot tighter. Shoot tighter. Now the camera knows exactly what you're trying to expose for. Just this, not all that clutter there in the background. So that's why you'll find me, I'm typically shooting a little more telephoto. One, two, three (camera clicks). Okay, so, even though it's hard to see in this screen necessarily but the photo here on the computer, we got a good exposure, nice solid exposure because it knows exactly what it's supposed to be exposing for. Alright, so how can we improve this? Well, I can shoot up, I can bounce up like that. I can kind of block some of the light coming towards him. But, you know, anytime you've got on-camera flash and you're shooting with some type of dome like this, all the light is emanating from here and therefore it's gonna hit the subject and you're almost always gonna get a shadow in the background, okay. Let me turn you around a little bit and I'm gonna actually shoot so we have this dark area back here and hopefully that dark area disappears. So you just rotate around. Okay, so here we shoot like this, yup. And what I'm doing, the way I'm shooting this, I'm just trying to, there's a cameraman over here so I'm gonna eliminate him. He's out of my screen, that's okay. Look at the, and the studio people can see this, but the backdrop is dark, it's far away. This might actually turn out well, alright. Go ahead and turn that shoulder towards me, yup. Start getting a little bit better. One, two, three (camera clicks). Okay, let's see how that photo looked. Cool, so now we're starting to get him separate from the background. Th background's dark, background's far away, and we have a decent shot of him. If I zoom in a little bit on his face, you know, we kind of look at the catch light. So I didn't tell you we were gonna zoom in tight. Hey, we're gonna zoom in tight. Look at your face, look at the catch light. We're always thinking catch lights. This is a very small catch light and one of the things that professional photographers try to do is get a nice big catch light in the eye. And therein again lies one of the problems with these little domes. You do get a catch light but it's not like all that impressive. Okay, the exposure on this. Let me start talking about how to change exposure. Let's say that I think it's a little bit dark. Okay, I'm in TTL mode and now I want to increase the brightness. So I push the little plus and minus button and I rotate my dial or I push left and right or up and down, depends on the flash. And I'm gonna go to plus one just to show you what a plus one does. So we're gonna do this exact same shot again in this direction, cool. One, two, three (camera clicks). Okay, same picture at, I tried to go plus one. And what we're gonna see here is there isn't a whole lot of difference between the two. And I'm gonna explain why. You guys can't see this but when I took that picture, there was a little indicator on the back of my flash and it said, it blinked at me. It said minus two! It's like, wait a minute, what? Didn't I just set it to be plus one? Why did it say minus two? The reason why is I'm already maxed out the power of this little flash unit. It said, hey, I know that you wanted to go plus one, but I just didn't have it in me. I tried, man, I tried to give you plus one, but I couldn't! I could only give you minus two! Oh, what do you do? Well, therein lies the problem with these little flashes. Sometimes it just doesn't have the oomph to give you what you want. So I have to think of other ways to get what I want. Well, let's think through, what's sucking up the power here? What's taking the energy away? The diffusion dome. I said it's the light grenade, it's sending light everywhere. No longer is it sending light to him, it's sending it all up. Hmm, that's a bummer. So maybe I have to change the direction of the diffusion dome or maybe I have to add some more reflector here to send light towards him. How about ISO? I can increase ISO, that would help a lot. In fact, I'm gonna do that, I'm gonna increase ISO. So I'm currently at ISO and I'm gonna go up to ISO 800. And we'll take that same picture again, you ready? Yup! Alright, here we go, one, two, three (camera clicks). Sweet. Now it says minus point 3. So it went from a minus two to now it's at a minus point three, okay. And that was too much, right, too much. So that's the great thing about digital is that I can say, oh, that was too much. I want it to be plus one, I probably should go back down to maybe a plus point three. There's no right answer here, folks. It's just what do you like, what's the look, what are you after? Most of my TTL flash adjustments are between a minus two and a plus one. Very rarely do I go to, like, plus three when I'm doing TTL. So just kind of keep your flash adjustments from, like, a minus two to a plus one and you'll be happy. Alright, last one for this scenario. Okay one, two, three (camera clicks). You got a nice smile, man, I like it. I like it! Okay, did that come in? I think that came in. So that was the one that was too bright. Here's the one I dialed it down. And again, it's still too bright. So we just keep making adjustments. I'm in TTL mode, right, I'm in TTL mode. And so every time I change his direction, every time I move a little bit right, every time I move a little bit left, or up or down, I tilted the flash forward a little bit. TTL responds to that in a way that's not always predictable. So if I always want to be predictable, I need to go to manual mode. Let me just show you some manual mode shots just so I can kind of hit both sides of the story here. So I was in TTL mode on the flash, now I'm gonna go to manual. So again, I push the mode button, push mode again until I get to the letter M which is manual. There we go, I'm in manual mode. I push OK so that's set. And now it says, oh that was guide number, I don't want that, forget I even said the term guide number. Don't ask questions about it because I'm not answering it. (chuckles) Alright, so now I'm in manual mode and it currently says F16. Is that right or wrong, I have no idea. So now what I'm gonna start doing is I'm just gonna start taking pictures. I'm gonna take a shot at one sixteenth power and let's just see what we get. One, two, three (camera clicks). Okay, and this is always take a shot, take a look. Beauty of digital, okay. One sixteenth, not enough. So I'm gonna go up to, I'm just gonna make a big jump. I'm gonna go to quarter power. See, it's not scary! Look at, I'm not afraid, I just make a change! Take a shot, one, two, three (camera clicks). Alright, here's quarter power. Oh, more better! And then it gets into fine tuning. All flashes have like this quarter power plus a third or quarter power minus a third. Have you seen that before? It's kind of this fine tune it. So I can look at it, you know, maybe on my LCD screen or my calibrated monitor, I can look at it and go, oh, I'm gonna go up by a third of a stop. So let's do that, I'm gonna go quarter plus a third. And all that means is a third of a stop more than quarter power. What does that mean? I don't know, it's math. Third of a stop more than quarter power. Alright, here we go. One, two, three (camera clicks), cool. Alright, little brighter, little better, cool. So manual doesn't have to be scary. In fact, manual is very easy. The thing you gotta think about with manual now, let's say that I don't shoot from here, but I shoot here. Okay, is my manual power output, will it still work for this? Uh-uh, now I'm gonna have to actually readjust my manual. Because every time you change your distance, your manual power has to change as well. Let me just show you. So I shoot that same picture here from far away. Nice smile, good job! And you'll see he's much darker. Oh, so if I move farther away, I have to add manual power. So now I'm gonna to a half power. Oops. I pushed the mode button. Even I make mistakes. Gasp, I know, it happens! Alright, so now we're at half power and I'm back about three more feet from where I was. One, two, three (camera clicks). And then just for grins and giggles, I'm gonna go full power and show you all what full power looks like. So I push that, I go to one over one and here's the full power shot, (camera clicks) cool. So that's full power with the diffusion dome. My main reason for doing this is just to show you don't have to shy away from manual. It's actually quite easy. You just take a shot, take a picture. If you see this shadow and the shadow's in a place you don't want, turn the person around to a place where there's no wall behind him, you know, or bounce it off of a reflector. Once you start understanding the light, understanding where the light's coming from, and understanding the power, well now you're in control. Now you can decide what you want the look to be. That's really powerful! I mean, that's exciting! I know it's silly but I'm excited. I got hair sticking up on my arm because I'm excited about the control that I have. (sighs) Okay, let's now go to a different type of dome and just show you what that will look like. So this was the freebie you got with your flash. Let's go to a different dome here and just to speed things up, I've got a different flash. This is the Nikon SB but it works the same as all my other ones. So I turn this one to on and I'm in TTL mode, okay. All that same stuff is still, it still says TTL BLFP, that stuff you pointed out earlier, it's all there. And I'm at TTL zero. So what's the difference? Well this dome is bigger. So what do you think? Is it gonna be better, worse, softer, harder? So who thinks it's gonna be softer? Yeah, are we still gonna get a shadow or no shadows? So yes shadows? Yeah, we're still gonna get a shadow, absolutely. You're a great participant, you're like learning here, too, aren't you? Alright, so let's take this picture. Oh, I do want to point this out. I have modified this ever a little bit. I'll try to show this to the cameras. I've actually put a little reflector board inside of here so that light won't be going out the back. Rather, it'll concentrate more light going forward so I don't waste the backlight. So if you do get some type of dome like this, I would encourage you to find a way to maybe put a piece of paper or something, a card, back there to send the light forward. You don't always have to use this top piece but I do. Again, it just softens the whole thing. I'm shooting straight up like that. I see people shooting like this all the time. And I don't always poo-poo them because I know what they're trying to do but you'll see here, it's still not the perfect solution. Alright, you ready? I'm ready, one, two, three (camera clicks). Ah! I like it! I heard that, she said, I like it. Okay, I like it, too. I do, honestly. It's actually quite a bit better than the little diffusion dome, isn't it? Alright, so you know, how much does this thing cost? Well, if you buy a pro level like this one, it's again Harbor Digital Design, I'm thinking 50 bucks, maybe 50, 60 bucks. Not that much but you can also make this stuff on your own. You can make it out of tupperware or you can make it out of your kitchen utensil, you know. Stuff works as long as it's diffused so make it even bigger. Go get a bucket, a white bucket and shoot from the bucket, you know. Yeah, it's actually pretty good, I'm impressed. Alright, let's try vertical. Let's see what happens when we go vertical. Can you shoot vertical like this? Well, you can, let's see what happens. Okay, one, two, three (camera clicks). And by the way, this is TTL, TTL. It's doing a pretty good job. And okay, not bad, not bad at all to be honest with you. That looks really nice. Okay, let's take it to the next level. Let's do this but let's also bring in a reflector on the other side. I can manage this on my own if I think about what's my free hand and what's the hand that has to stay on the camera. So I'll try this on my own. Maybe later I'll grab someone and they can help me out by holding it but, okay, we're just gonna try this. So what I'm doing now is I've got light coming from on this side and some is gonna reflect back on this side. And I'm gonna try and get this as close as I can to you but not be in the frame. So if it's like touching your knee or whatever, that's okay. Okay, alrighty, here we go, one, two, three (camera clicks). And I think I'm gonna try one more here. I'm gonna zoom out a little bit. And that didn't come out as good as I want it to. Okay, here we go again, one, two, three (camera clicks). Okay, not so hot with that one for some reason. I'm not sure why it didn't come out as good as I wanted. But, you know, the light is coming from here and it is being blocked by the lens. So this is, what I'm talking through right now, it's kind of my own mental process. Like, why didn't that work as well as I thought it would work? You know, what are the problems? So I kind of put everything back into the studio and go, oh, well that's the problem. The flash is trying to go through the lens to hit the reflector. You know, it's not gonna necessarily work. So I have to think, well, how can I get that flash forward a little more so it would have hit the reflector? Take off my lens filter, or my hood, thank you, thank you. Always get smart talent, that's the key! They can help you keep the tab. You take off the lens hood, move the flash a little bit, but you're kind of limited with on-camera flash. Alright, good, I like it. This is a diffusion dome, a larger diffusion dome, cool beans. Let's go to another type of diffusion dome, this one and I won't actually shoot with it but this is made by another manufacturer out there. A lot of people own these types of things. It basically velcros onto the flash. It's very similar in overall approach and effect. The difference though is it's a little bit smaller and so size matters. Size matters so big is better in flash photography. What are you thinking about? So flash photography, you want bigger diffusion domes. This works and it'll give you somewhere in between the small one and the big one that I just played with, okay.

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.