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    Ways to adjust your flash for more controlled lighting


    The message Ways to change your flash for more controlled lighting first appeared at Digital Photography School. It is written by Kevin Landwer-Johan.

    For many new photographers, flash can be a confusing addition. But there is really only one way to gain experience. It is good practice to use your flash well.

    Using your flash without changing the output often produces unsatisfactory results. These can be very daunting. With few adjustments you can easily achieve more acceptable results. It is not difficult to control the flash intensity based on the light style that you want for your photos.

    Ways to change your flash for more controlled lighting Northern Thai sausage

    © Kevin Landwer-Johan

    Your unchanged flash is a small light source

    The smaller your light source is in relation to your subject, the harder the light will be. An unchanged flash produces strong light and high contrast for most subjects. This creates a shadow with hard edges that is often undesirable. The only difference is with macro photography because the light source is larger than the subject.

    If you adjust the flash intensity with a diffuser, the light falling on your subject will be softened.

    The use of a diffuser does a few things. It suppresses the output so that less light hits your subject. It also spreads the light, increasing the active light source. The light falling on your subject becomes softer. So will the shadows that they create.

    Ways to change your flash for more controlled lighting Young woman in the park

    © Kevin Landwer-Johan

    The benefits of using modified flash

    If you spread the light from your flash, you get more flattering results when taking portraits. Soft light that falls on the skin reduces the texture and gives it a more even tone. There are a number of techniques and accessories that you can use to spread the light from your flash. I will discuss some of these in the next section.

    Hard light from an unchanged flash shows more chance of skin spots. It also produces ugly hotspots.

    These bright spots occur on all but the most light-absorbing surfaces when using a non-diffuse light. The more the surface reflects, the more light from a small light source will reflect.

    By using a method to scatter the light from your flash, these problems can be solved.

    Another option to change your flash is to do the opposite of spreading the light. Reducing the spread of light gives a completely different appearance. You can better determine which part of your composition the light from your flash has influence on. This is usually achieved through the use of a snoot or honeycomb grid.

    Ways to change your flash for more controlled lighting Rabbit Time Costume

    © Kevin Landwer-Johan

    How to operate your flash with the help of modifications

    The easiest way to change the light of your flash is to turn your flash head so that it does not point where your lens is pointing. Indoors you can point it to the ceiling. The light reflects from the ceiling and spreads. You can also aim your flash on a wall next to or behind you.

    Ceilings are often white or light-neutral colors, so your photo probably has no strange colors. Bouncing your flash on a colored wall or other surfaces can cause that color to affect the light.

    Depending on how close your flash is to the surface, let it bounce off. The closer you are to the surface, the less diffusion there will be.

    When you turn your flash head to make it bounce off another surface, the light and shadows it creates become softer. Shadows can still be clear. You must be careful with shadows under people's chin and around their eyes when bouncing your flash off a ceiling.

    If you use a piece of whiteboard, plastic or a fold-out reflector to bounce off your flash, you get more control. You can move your reflector farther away or closer and determine the best position for it.

    Ways to change your flash for more controlled lighting Young woman in red

    © Kevin Landwer-Johan

    Clip-on hard diffuser

    Most flash units come with a clip-on hard plastic diffuser. This is a small accessory that fits over the front of the flash head. It scatters and softens the light when the flash is fired.

    Because this attachment is small, about the same size as your flash lens, it won't do much to soften the light. It is often better than nothing if you have no other option and it is small and handy.


    Flash with a clip-on diffuser © Kevin Landwer-Johan

    Bounce cards and other compact modifications

    A white piece of cardboard of about 20 cm (8 inch) square with a lip on one edge and a pair of good strong elastic bands. This was a standard package for photographers when I worked in newspapers. It was back before the proliferation of flash modifications was available to buy.

    Adding a bounce card to a flash aimed at a ceiling or wall spreads and softens the light even more. This will help further reduce the intensity of the shadows.

    There are so many types of bounce cards and other diffusers available today. They are all designed to adjust your flash in slightly different ways. Kits of modifications can be:

    • softboxes,
    • Barn doors,
    • snoots
    • Honeycomb nets and all kinds of variations.

    Flash with a bounce card © Kevin Landwer-Johan

    Snoots and grids

    Most accessories that adjust the flash output are designed to soften the light. Snoots and honeycomb grids are two sets that allow you to control the direction of the light.

    Each works to limit the spread of light from your flash. This allows you to determine which part of your composition is affected the most.

    Ways to adjust your flash for more controlled lighting Snoot lighting

    © Kevin Landwer-Johan

    Gobos & colored gels

    Two more accessories that change the flash output are gobos & gels.

    A gobo is a template or template that is placed in front of your flash head to create a shadow of a shape or pattern.

    Each color gel can be used to influence the light color emitted by your flash. This can be used for a creative effect or to balance your flash with the ambient light.

    Electric light sources often emit a colored light that is not as white as the light from your flash. Tungsten light is a warm tone. Fluorescent is often quite cool. The use of the right color gel can produce the right color to be in balance with an existing light source.

    Small flash softbox


    Small Softbox © Kevin Landwer-Johan

    My favorite flash modifier is a small softbox. It is not the smallest or most convenient, but it produces a soft, pleasant light.

    The mine is approximately 60 cm (2 ft) square and has a bracket to mount the flash on the back. The biggest disadvantage of using it is that you have to place it on a stand or have someone hold it for you.

    I think I find the results best when I use it as a fill-in light.

    Ways to adjust your flash for more controlled lighting Temple Tourist Sunset

    © Kevin Landwer-Johan

    Adjust the amount of light

    Whatever method you use to change the light from your flash, there is always a reduced output. You must compensate for this.

    With the TTL setting, your camera and flash must calculate the correct amount of light. This should also apply to the automatic settings.

    In some circumstances, you may find that not enough light from your flash illuminates your subject. You must adjust your reimbursement at these times. This can be achieved by opening your aperture more or increasing your ISO.

    Ways to change your flash for more controlled lighting Rag Doll Girl

    © Kevin Landwer-Johan


    Unchanged flash is not often the best light source. With modification you can adjust its output to the style of the photo that you take.

    Experimentation and practice is required to master the desired type of lighting.

    A practical exercise to help you understand and see what you can achieve is worth spending some time with. Prepare a still life composition or find a willing model to work with. In the same setting, take a series of photos using different modifications so that you can compare the appearance of the light with each photo.


    The message Ways to change your flash for more controlled lighting first appeared at Digital Photography School. It is written by Kevin Landwer-Johan.

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