Flash photography or natural light? Why not both

When a photographer says they prefer natural light it’s true of course but it’s also much easier.

With natural light, I can see what I am doing, where the light comes from, what shadows it throws etc. Using flash for a lot of photographers can be a bit scary. Especially off camera flash (OCF in the jargon). It requires experimenting, but also a lot of experience, and confidence in our own capacity and techniques- and also equipment- my transmitter failed me on my last shoot grrr,  I had 2 cameras, 2 flashes, 2 receivers, 2 leads and one transmitter, what had to fail?

Many photographers come to photography because they have “the eye”, some come to it because they love the technique. But I don’t think one can be a great photographer without both. For me learning about flash has opened a new world and I use it when it’s relevant,  when I want to have fun and when clients are happy for me to do so.  Which is why doing styled shoots, with models, professionals or not, is a fantastic opportunity for photographers to experiment and hone their skills.

To learn I went back to college for a few months, evening classes, and I also attended one of  Brett Harkness workshop. In every training, I think the idea is to make the learning and technique your own and watch out for 2 dangers: overdosing on the new technique, and using things that will date or get boring. After that, there is no short cut, it’s practice, practice, and more practice. I’ll show you in another post what I did with the techniques, today I am sharing my photos from Brett’s training day. Personally, I found the model’s makeup and styling far too heavy, and I don’t especially like moody models, I prefer smiles. Even when a smile is crooked, it still illuminates the face.


Also, even with models, I try to find the in between poses moments that  I love, the natural laugh, the rearranging the dress, the “just being” moment, but it’s not easy as they are there to pose! We started with window light, nearly always a winner, soft light, delicate shadows, slimming the face, reminiscent of classical painting- they didn’t have flashes in the Renaissance..  Natural looking light but with very little shadows on the face  can be done with a soft light or a reflector. I also like using branches, leaves etc to shoot through, it gives an impression of privacy, stolen moment, authenticity..  Here again, we used a soft light, it hardly shows apart from the absence of shadows on their faces and the vibrancy of the colours. For the following photos, the craft was balancing the light from the candles and lights from inside and the flash. Flash shouldn’t just lit up everything and loose the atmosphere, so it’s a delicate balancing act. I love being able to keep the warmth of the ambient light.  And nothing to do with flash but I was very proud of the silhouettes. Ok now for some dramatic flash. Whether it’s something you would want for your day or not, I think it’s impossible to not find the effect dramatic. One trick is to underexpose, so everything else looks darker, it wasn’t night at all, but by darkening the surroundings, the flash creates a more stunning image. I have started using this technique at some weddings, I will show you another time.  To finish, some images I like just as much as they speak of emotions, and connection. So what are your thoughts, flash or not flash?  why not both, it doesn’t take long to set up and do, it is more posed and less natural, but all couple photos have an element of  feeling unnatural as it’s rare to show our love while someone is shooting at us.  I’ll show in another post what some couples made of it, as you can see, it goes from subtle to very dramatic and everything in between.


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