“Artificial light” part 2

In part 1we learned some basics information about artificial light. In this section we will narrow our focus to the electronic flash unit. Electronic flash can be built in to your camera, or a separate hot shoe mounted unit. The built in flash is typically limited in power and is positioned near the lens axis. Portable units can offer greater power and flexibility.

Separate flash units must be synchronized to fire when the shutter is open; this is done via mounting the flash to the cameras hot shoe, or using a sync cable. A sync cord connects the flash to a barrel connector on the camera and fires the flash at the proper time. A more advanced cable may allow for two way communications between the camera and flash units onboard computers. These cables also allow the flash to be moved away from the camera and aimed in any direction required. Radio and infrared devices can also synchronize the firing of the flash with the opening of the cameras shutter. Some manufacturers can wirelessly connect and fire multiple flash units, adjusting their output to match the sensitivity or exposure index dialed in to the camera. Remote triggers, mounted to a flash, will fire that unit whenever another flash fires so that multiple units can be set to fire off simultaneously.

When shooting fast breaking events you may not have time to separate your flash and must go with the camera mounted unit, adding a diffuser to the light will soften the light as in this photo of a US Presidential candidate pressing the flesh.

When choosing an electronic flash power and flexibility are primary factors. Some flash units allow for the rotation and tilting of the flash head allowing the redirection of the light. Some flash units can be set to over or under expose the light to balance with existing light. Sophisticated communications between your camera and flash are now possible with many manufacturers’ proprietary systems of flash management. Some makers allow the flash to read the light coming through the lens and adjust the flash units output during the exposure.

But the availability of accessories is also important and should be researched before deciding. From the bottom up some of these accessories are;
• Mounting devices to fasten your flash to a tripod or light stand. Clamps to mount the flash to other structures or special multi flash fixtures allowing you to gang several units to a single mount.
• Cables and connectors to synchronize the flash to the camera.
• Filters to balance the light output or to add creative effect.
• Light adjusting devices like reflectors, soft light domes, diffusers or prisms to widen the light for wide angle lenses or narrow the light cone for telephoto lenses. Umbrellas and reflectors for bouncing light.
• Auxiliary power sources like large capacity batteries that offer many more flashes and shorter recycle times.

So how do we use an electronic flash? The units can often be mounted directly to the camera via a Hot Shoe. Mounting a flash near the lens will tend to produce a harsh straight on light characterized by obvious shadows and often red eye. Red eye occurs when a light source is so close to the lens that it lights up the red pigmented blood and vessels in the subjects eyes. This mounting might be effective as a low power fill light along with an off camera main light.

Moving the flash off camera allows for ¾ or full side lighting and can also allow bounce lighting from a wall or ceiling.

In this photo a manual Honeywell flash, with a 4”x5” white index card as a reflector, was aimed at the ceiling to illuminate an old timers meeting in a North Carolina country store.

Take a simple white card held around the barrel of the flash by a rubber band. Before shooting pull it up so that ¾ of the white card extends beyond the flash and aim the unit at the ceiling. You get a main light bounce from the ceiling and a small fill light from the white card.

Becoming comfortable with your choice in electronic flash units will require a lot of practice, pushing the limits to see what you can do.

Choosing a flash made by your camera manufacturer insures that you will get the most features available.

Have fun shoot many photos-Larry Grayam

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