Are you tired of cranking up your ISO on your camera to accurately capture those intimate moments in a family’s home during your lifestyle session? Today I want to give you some quick tips to help you to start using flash for family photography! There are so many myths and fears surrounding using flash in your photography – and especially lifestyle – work but as a huge advocate of flash I’m here to tell you it may very well be the BEST solution for you during the dark days of winter. Most all of the images you see on my website were photographed with flash added, can you believe that? You can make a flash blend with the amount of available light so easily and it’ll look very natural, I promise. So are you ready to get started?
1. Get the right equipment: a flash and trigger
There are so many options out there as far as flash equipment goes and what you purchase depends on the type of camera you have, what your budget is, and how you will use your flash. I prefer a universal system that works with several different brands of cameras since I shoot with older film cameras as well as my Canon 5D Mk II. A universal system means it will work with several brands, vs a brand-specific flash (like Canon or Nikon) will work with only that brand of camera. My favorite flash is a Lumopro flash. It is simple and easy to use, durable, consistent, high-quality, and inexpensive! Win-win-win-win-win! It only costs $180. Yes, you read that right. 🙂 Compare that to Profoto’s flash that sells for about $1,000.
The second key piece of equipment you need are wireless triggers. I also use a universal brand – Pocket Wizard’s – so they can communicate with any brand of camera I am shooting with. A pair of Pocket Wizard triggers sell for about $190. There are also other universal brands out there like Phottix that you can check into as well.
You may be asking, “What are triggers and why do I need them?”. One of the keys to start using flash for family photography is to get your flash OFF your camera. If your flash is not attached to your camera you need a way to tell the flash to fire when you press the shutter button. The triggers tell the flash to fire when you press the shutter button. They help your camera communicate with your flash.
Last, if you shoot film primarily, you need a handheld light meter like the Sekonic L-358. This has an artificial light meter setting to help you determine if your flash power and exposure are correct.
I have a handy-dandy list below that has specific links to all the flash equipment I use in my photography. Feel free to grab the freebie!
2. Learn Where to Place your Flash
The most important thing you can do to make sure you don’t get the dreaded “deer in the headlights look” in your flash photography is to learn where to place your flash. If you have your flash on your camera and pointed towards your family, you will get that look. The first key point is to take your flash off your camera. This will help you create beautiful directional light (like the image above) that looks more natural. The second key point is to bounce the flash off something. This could be a neutral-colored wall or ceiling or even a window (my favorite). Why do this? Because a flash unit is small. The beam of light that comes out of it is small. If you bounce it off something, you are spreading that beam of light out and creating a larger (and softer) light for your photography.
Check out all my One Light Many Looks blog posts showing you pullbacks of where I placed my flash or strobe and the resulting images. It really is so versatile and you can create many different looks from it!
3. Practice, Practice, Practice!
As with learning any new technique or craft, you need to practice. Learning to expose for flash vs. ambient light is different, but similar and is easier than you think, but you will learn it better through trial and error. If you have a digital camera, I suggest you use that to check the images on your LCD screen to see if you like the exposures and mixture of ambient light and flash in your photos.
Learning how to mix flash exposure with ambient exposure on film is a whole different animal but the same concept, essentially. If you are interested in learning more, I have a Lighting for Lifestyle guide that includes a 50+ page PDF and 12 demo videos to help you get started with flash and film. You can find out more details in the link above.