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Lesson 14 from: The Photography Starter Kit for Beginners

John Greengo

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Lesson Info

14. Flash

Summary (Generated from Transcript)

This lesson focuses on flash photography for beginners. The instructor discusses the limitations and benefits of using built-in flashes versus external flashes, the concept of TTL Auto Flash, and the importance of flash exposure compensation. The lesson also emphasizes the benefits of getting the flash off the camera to achieve better lighting and eliminate shadows. The instructor explains the use of a light ring for product or people photography and recommends using manual exposure and manual flash for consistent results. Additionally, the lesson addresses the compatibility of third-party flashes with different camera brands.


  1. What are the limitations of built-in flashes?

    Built-in flashes are small in size and cannot be moved around, and their power is often limited.

  2. What are the benefits of external flashes?

    External flashes provide more power, faster recycling between shots, and the ability to bounce off low white ceilings. They also offer additional technical features.

  3. What is TTL Auto Flash?

    TTL Auto Flash is a mode where the camera fires a test flash before capturing the photo, and the camera uses the test readings to determine the appropriate flash power. However, the instructor notes that TTL Auto Flash can sometimes result in overly bright or hot-looking images.

  4. How can flash exposure compensation be used to adjust the flash power?

    Flash exposure compensation allows you to dial down the flash power by a stop or more if you find it too powerful. This feature is separate from exposure compensation and specifically adjusts the power of the flash.

  5. Why is it recommended to get the flash off the camera?

    Getting the flash off the camera helps eliminate shadows and produces more attractive lighting for the subject. It can be achieved using various methods and equipment, ranging from expensive setups to more affordable options.

  6. What is a light ring used for?

    A light ring is a ring-shaped light source that goes around the subject, eliminating shadows. It can be used for product photography or people photography. The instructor suggests using manual exposure and manual flash for consistent results with a light ring.

  7. Can third-party flashes communicate with the camera for TTL flash?

    Yes, there are third-party flashes available that can communicate with the camera for TTL flash. While they may work well in automated modes, the instructor notes that using manufacturer-specific flashes can provide more convenience and compatibility due to differences in communication systems and naming protocols.

Next Lesson: Composition

Lesson Info


I wasn't sure whether to put this section in this class at all, because in my opinion flash is one of the most complicated areas of photography. And so there's many different classes on, you know, using daylight balanced fill flash, and matching your flash to the ambient light around. And there's a lot of complicated math that goes along with it. And flash has changed over the years. I remember many years ago, pretty much every photographer had a big old flash unit because they needed light because their cameras were not good at low light. And as digital cameras improved, improved, improved there's a lot of people who just don't even deal with flash at all. It's natural light all the time. So flash has its purpose. It's a very useful tool in some cases. We'll go through a few of the simple starting steps. There are many cameras that have built in flashes. Convenient but also limited. It's small in size. It can't be moved around. And the power generally has a lot of limitations on what ...

you can do with it. And so it's not going to get you very great creative results in most cases. But it's there if you absolutely need it. The add on flashes will give you much more power, which gives you a number of other things as well. Faster recycling so the faster between shots. You get the ability to bounce it off of low white ceilings. And there's lots of other technical features that might be added in to this. Now if you have not worked with flash photography before the first thing to understand is that flash has a very limited distance. Penguins 15 feet in front of you, maybe. Mountains two miles to the background, not gonna work. And so it has a limited range and it, there's a lot of fall off as we say. It gets darker very quickly. So when you have subjects, they need to be kind of at the same distance, which is why, I mean I'd prefer not to do a lineup shot like this, but it's where the light will hit all of the subjects relatively evenly. We can't have half this group standing 30 feet behind the other. That would obviously look very weird. But in particular about flash, they would be much, much, much darker. And so to receive even light everything needs to be kind of even distance from the camera. Which makes it a little bit difficult to use in many cases. Most cameras when the flash fires, it does so in a way that is known as TTL Auto Flash. Which is where the camera is figuring out, through the lens, through test firings of the flash, what happens when you take a picture is actually the flash fires before you shoot a picture and shoots a test. And the camera does a quick reading. And maybe will send a second test. And then will fire the flash where the picture is taken. And so it's doing some test readings to see what's appropriate. And this automated TTL flash, this is just kind of weird thing because on a technical scale it's spot on and it's doing the job. On an aesthetic scale of what you think looks good and what is normal for skin tones, it seems a little bit on the hot side. It seems a little bit on the bright side. And so this is where you can get into flash expose compensation and you can power down the flash a little bit if you think it's too powerful. And so you can dial it down by a stop. Or two. Or three. Depending on what you think looks good. Now the reason that there is a difference between what is technically correct and what is aesthetically correct is your camera is dumb. Right, remember that? It doesn't understand the difference between a face, a shirt, and the background. And it's just trying to match brightness as an average brightness for everything in the entire scene. And you're gonna be much much pickier about the way the skin tones look versus the background versus the shirt. And so you may want to do a little bit of testing with your camera and flash to see what looks natural to you, what looks right for you in a particular environment. Now, change the shirt, change the background, change the skin tone, there's gonna be a different solution to the problem here. But most cameras have flash exposure compensation which is that plus minus. We saw that before with exposure compensation. But there are two separate modes. And some people, they don't look closely enough at the little icons on their camera. And they'll be adjusting this thinking they're adjusting the expose compensation. So look very carefully at if it has the lightening bolt, because that's a major difference between exposure compensation and flash exposure compensation. They deal with different things. This one is dealing with the power of the flash. Now we could go on and on and on about flash. But I'm gonna leave you with one more tip. So the best and most important tip if you wanna get really nice looking photos is to get the flash off the camera. And there's something about, putting a headlamp on your forehead is not the most attractive look for most people. Having the light someplace else, getting those shadows someplace else, is gonna make your subject look better. And so there's a lot of different ways that you can do it. You can spend a lot of money if you want to. You can not spend a lot of money. You can do it for a couple hundred bucks, getting external flashes. It is more equipment, it's more setup, and it's a whole other ballgame. But if you wanna get predictable, exact results, on a regular basis, it's something that anyone can accomplish. There's a light ring that you can put on your camera. To get, I guess better lighting. I'm using it right now. But sometimes the flash goes off, depending on where I'm at. And then the whole face is over exposed. So the light ring. And so you're talking about an entire ring of light that goes around your subject and you shoot through the middle of it? Is that right? Yes. Okay, so yeah, and that is a technique that can be used for product photography or people photography and it's essentially there for eliminating shadows. So if you have light over here you're gonna get shadows over there. And you know vis versa. But if you have light everywhere, then you're not gonna have shadows anywhere. And so that sounds like it's a great place for manual exposure and manual flash. So that when you have it set up it's consistent. Whereas if, I don't know, maybe if you turn the lens a little bit differently or you see more or less of your subject it's gonna start automatically playing games with you. And I know that as I said before flash is one of the most complicated areas of photography so the tendency is just let it do auto, just let it do its thing. And you'll find that if you ever, you know, sit through a studio class or how to use flash photography, in most all cases it's about getting it manual so that when you test fire that shot, flashes go off, and you press it again, you get the exact same result. That way you can say, oh if it's too bright I'm gonna move this a little further back. Or I'm gonna make this setting adjustment. I'm gonna shoot it there and it's gonna be good. And so if you do that on a regular basis and my guess is that if you bought this you are using it in some sort of regular way you need to figure out how to use it manually so that it's consistent. I would love to say technology will just solve your problems but cameras and camera equipment are dumb sometimes. Well I have mine on auto so that makes sense (laughing). Okay. All right, so at manual, manual seems scary at first. But the thing is is that it's consistent. So if it's wrong you can make that little dial adjustment wherever it is on yours. And like, that's too much. Okay now it's too little. Ah, that's right where I want it right there. Okay, thank you. John we have a question from Frank who's asking, for TTL flash, do you need a brand flash to match your camera like the Nikon Speed Light, or will other sometimes cheaper flashes be, also be able to communicate the light measurement with the camera? So the brands, whatever various brands there are, they will have their own dedicated speed lights. Which is what their flash units are called. And they're gonna be able to communicate perfectly. There are third party companies that make them, sometimes for less money, or with extra features, that communicate and they do so very well. And so you never really see a flash in the photo. And so the quality of the unit doesn't matter as much. It's just light. As long as it puts out light, it's fine. And so yes, you can buy third party units that have good TTL on them. I'm not a big fan of third party units for flashes because, to what I said earlier, flash is one of the most complicate areas, and typically the way that they communicate and the way that they operate is simplest with the manufacturers. And so if I was really strapped for cash yeah I might go with one of the after market ones because I could achieve a $300 flash for $100 flash. But if I had that $300, for convenience purposes it's gonna make life easier. So if you have the time to deal with some of the communication issues, it's not necessarily that there's a problem, it's just that it's, it's working off of a different system. It's coming from a different manufacturer with different ideas on buttons and dials and naming protocol and so forth, and so, they can work just as well when it comes to the automated modes.

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Photography Starter Kit Outline

Ratings and Reviews

Kanoelani Patenaude

I am a pro photographer in my dreams, where I know the in's and out's of my camera; however, reality proved differently, as real life would tell you, I was a deer caught in headlights just looking at my new 7D Mark II. I am a photographer enthusiast without the skills, but a lot of love for the moments one, or the profession/hobby of it can capture. I mostly shoot my husband, friends, and community surfers in the lineup, and of course, my children, who rarely sit still. Thus, I switched from Nikon to Canon, venturing on the 7D Mark II for the grand reviews of how stellar of camera it is for action shots (surfing, and kids, this was a no brainer). That said, and overwhelmed with the way beyond my skill set, but noted desire and aspiration to grow, I made the purchase, and sought help rather quickly as I wanted to feel confident with what I was utilizing to capture the best memories possible. I came into this John's courses knowing the "on/off" button, and "auto" shoot mode. I came out of the course feeling like the pro in my dreams, and ready to shoot manual. John's teaching style is on point, and his detailed visuals are a huge plus. My first shots post this photography kit course, I thought were great for my first educated shoot, and shockingly, I even received and email from one of the sponsors of the surfers I captured, asking if they could use my image for their sites and publications. Not bad for a newbie. Though, my intent was never a business purpose, I did not know if I should charge a small fee, or give it for free. I don't mind free as it's not my business, yet I don't want to ruin it for any professional photographers in town doing the same thing that are charging. Perhaps another course to help me with that. I highly recommend courses by John Greengo! Thank you so much, John!


I'm not sure my first review posted. But I LOVE this class! John Greengo is a great, engaging teacher who is really adept at representing the concepts visually and excellent at explaining them verbally. I love how he goes through examples with photographs he has taken. Even though I only have a Nikon Coolpix digital camera, it does have Manual, Shutter priority, and Aperture priority modes. Through his class I've gotten a really good sense of how to balance ISO, aperture, and shutter speed. It's a great overview for me especially since I am new to photography, I can play around with some of these settings, and I have a greater understanding of what I might need in a higher level camera in the future. Money well spend! (For $29, this is an absolute steal). John Greengo is an awesome teacher and I hope to take more of his classes in the future!

Megan Wagner

John is extremely articulate and is a great teacher with lots of visual aids and metaphors to help understand photography. I have been doing photography for a few years now and this class was a tremendous help in boosting my knowledge and refreshing my memory in multiple aspects of photography. The graphics that John uses are helpful and he even goes through images and asks which settings would be best to use and will go through the why. He makes things easy to understand and is very clear about the information he provides. I am so glad I took this course and I would highly recommend it even to an experienced photographer. Thank you John Greengo!

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