Learning about photographic flashes

Want to learn how to use an external flash with your SLR camera system? Strobist has an useful ‘Lighting 101‘ series of articles. I have also had Light: Science and Magic by Steven Biver et al. strongly recommended to me.

Since I will be getting my hands on a 430EX II flash on Wednesday, doing a bit of pre-reading seemed sensible. The first photos I produce using it should appear here sometime after I return to Ottawa on the 28th.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

22 thoughts on “Learning about photographic flashes”

  1. One welcome development today: I was at Henry’s, talking with one of their staff members about flash lighting, and I asked if they had any tungsten or fluorescent correction gels.

    It turns out, they have a small book of 250 sample gels, from Lee filters and they are just the right size to use with a 430EX flash. As a result, I now have a wide array of gels to try out, and they were all free.

  2. Overclock Your Speedlight for More Power

    “But if you turn on most any speedlight in it’s diagnostic mode, let it charge up, turn it off, and then turn it on again, it will charge up again. And not just once, either:

    For each time you re-charge the flash, you add 60 watt-seconds of power to the next time you fire it.”

  3. Once I have read up on it, I might start saving for one of the AlienBees Packages.

    A kit would cost less than an L-series lens, and would let me establish a basic (semi-portable) home studio.

  4. Studio Lighting – Flash Mounted homemade DIY Beauty Dish or From Soup Dish to Beauty Dish

    Sat, 2007-01-06 11:31

    “Do you know why they call this piece of studio equipment “Beauty Dish”? Because it make people look beautiful. The idea is similar to other diffusion ideas – the more diffusion you put in your light, the softer the image is. This idea is widely deployed in photography studios – the softbox, the beauty dishes and the reflector disc all work on close principles.

    The unique thing about a Beauty Dish is the way that it diffuses light – unlike a softbox or a reflector which has an “illuminating” surface the beauty dish has a circle of light with an opaque center. Now, what all this has to do with soup. You will soon find out.”

    Studio Lighting – Flash Mounted homemade DIY Softbox

    Tue, 2006-02-28 21:51

    “In the following tutorial, I will demonstrate how to make your own flash mounted, homemade softbox

    You will need two good hands, and some patience, but your reward will be a nice softbox for the cost of only 3-4 dollars. (Not to mention that wonderful feeling of cutting and gluing, like you are small kids again). “

  5. Back to Basics: How to Choose an Umbrella
    Monday, January 12, 2009

    Umbrellas are cheap, portable little light softeners. But there are enough choices available to make picking the right one a little confusing. Or worse yet, to end up with something that is completely a wrong fit.

    Below are some of the pros and cons of each of the major types of umbrella. You’ll find that choosing is easy, once you figure out how you will be most likely be using it.

  6. How to choose the right f-stop
    You can work out the lens aperture using the flashgun’s guide number as follows: aperture = guide number/distance; the guide number usually assumes an ISO of 100 and distance quoted in metres. Remember to use the guide number appropriate to the zoom setting; on the Canon 550 EX, with a zoom setting of 35mm, for example, the guide number is 36. For a subject five metres away, you’ll therefore need an aperture of 36/5, or f/5.0 (to the nearest aperture value setting). That’s at ISO 100; if you’re using ISO 400, the guide number is doubled (you need two ISO increments to double the guide number because of the inverse square law). The aperture then becomes f/10.

    How to choose the right distance
    You may want to work this out the other way round, and start off by assuming a fixed aperture and then working out the appropriate subject distance, in which case, the calculation is rearranged to become: distance = guide number/aperture. With our Canon 550 EX and an aperture of f/8, for example, our subject will need to be at a distance of 36/8, or 4.5 metres. Incidentally, there’s an important point to make here about flash zooming and guide numbers. When equating the zoom setting to your digital SLR, remember the focal multiplier and to use the lens’s equivalent focal length. 35mm on your flashgun will correspond to 22mm on your DSLR’s zoom.

  7. A Walk Around the Monobloc, Pt. 1

    Speedlights are great, and I use them about 90% of the time. But that does not mean they are always the most appropriate tool for the job. Nor does it mean they might be the best choice for your style of lighting.

    If you have learned to use your speedlights in manual, you should not at all be intimidated by the idea of using “studio strobes.” In fact, you’ll probably find the typical monobloc to be very familiar territory by now.

  8. A Walk Around the Monobloc, Pt. 2

    Last time, we took a look at the control panel of a typical monobloc flash. And while they may have looked intimidating to some of you, in the end they really weren’t that different from speedlights. This time we’ll concentrate on the business end, where extra power is only one of the important differences between the two.

  9. I now have a good set of light modifiers:

    • A Sto-Fen omnibounce diffuser for a Canon 430EX II flash
    • Two shoot-through umbrellas
    • One reflective umbrella
    • A collapsible reflector
    • A Lumiquest Softbox III

    I am excited about some upcoming planned photo shoots.

  10. Today’s Updates
    © 2009 KenRockwell.com. All rights reserved.

    I added Location Lighting Solutions by Jack Neubart to my Books list.

    It shows many examples of fantastic lighting and how to create it. As I keep reiterating, lighting is by far the most, and often the only, important technical aspect of photography.

    It’s aimed at the full-time commercial photographer, not the casual amateur, but if you follow along and can duplicate what he shows in the examples (I haven’t tried and can’t vouch if the book explains it well or not), the results will put you ahead of all the other hacks competing for the same commercial jobs.

  11. RadioPopper JrX Will Make You Fat and Happy

    Reader’s Digest version: They are excellent remotes that offer significant range over 16 channels and have thus far been 100% reliable for me under normal shooting conditions. They also allow remote power level changes with White Lightning/AlienBees and/or legacy Nikon and Canon TTL flashes.

    The remote power setting feature works simply and brilliantly. Three physical knobs, functioning just like volume controls, for each of three groups on any of the 16 channels.

    These triggers make a strong, value-oriented case for any photographer looking to move into a quality set of remotes. And according to the website, RadioPopper expects availability within Europe and Australia shortly after the North American debut.
    In the end, they ended up with a very capable remote that still comes in at significantly less than than the gold standard PocketWizard transceivers. Transmitters will be $69.95, with the two flavors of receivers clocking in at $69.95 and $89.95, respectively.

    The “Basic” model receiver ($69.95) is a “dumb” remote — simply a substitute for a sync cord. Albeit a very long sync cord, as I find them to be very reliable out to distances of at least 100 yards. The “Studio” model receiver adds the remote power plus remote modeling light level control on WL/AB strobes and will go for $89.95.

    Kits are priced at $119.95 an $139.95, respectively. You can upgrade a Basic to a Studio after the fact for $39.95.

  12. RadioPopper JrX: Questions and Answers

    Before the Q&A, just a note that continued shooting with the RadioPopper remotes has only increased my confidence in the units.

    Their initial reliability is holding up in multiple environments, and I would feel very comfortable taking them out on assignment.

  13. Tuesday, October 06, 2009
    An Simple Idea to Improve Flash Photography

    Both Nikon and Canon (and Sony, Pentax, Olympus, Holga and Lomo, for all I know) do a very good job of manual white balance, based on the ambient environment. If you are shooting available light, you just shoot a white (or grey) card and set a new white balance to match your mystery ambient light. That’ll get you pretty darn close.

    But with flash you ‘re screwed if the weird ambient is not daylight, incandescent or “30CC green” fluorescent. Because whatever weird white balance you shift to is gonna leave your flash out in the cold. Or the warm. Or the too cyan-ish magenta. (You get the picture.)

    It shouldn’t have to be that way. Since the camera can balance in just about any color of light, it knows the exact difference between white light and your ambient environment. Wouldn’t that be a handy little piece of info to have at your disposal?

    It would be a simple, in-camera calculation to convert that offset into a color-correction (CC) filter pack. Then the light coming from your flash would be color-matched to the weird, ambient environment. Now, your camera’s white balance corrects for everything. And Rosco already makes that gel pack. (It’s about $45 for enough material to last you forever with speedlights.)

  14. Monday, October 26, 2009
    Ray Flash vs. Orbis vs. AlienBees ABR800 Review, Pt. 1

    Ring light has, for me, gone from a curiosity to what I consider to be an essential part of my lighting kit. I do not always use it when lighting people, but I always bring it. And I frequently end up using it — but rarely as a main or only light.

    In this first of a two-part series comparing ring flashes, we’ll be taking a look at the two direct competitors in the bunch: The Ray Flash and Orbis ring flash adapters. The ABR-800, in all of its different iterations, will get its own post next week.

    As most of you already know, the Ray Flash and Orbis are not actually ring flashes but rather are passive light modifiers that convert your existing speedlight into a ring flash. This process has advantages and disadvantages, and there are also relative strengths and weaknesses between the two.

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