Do you need a flash to make better pictures?
I use Flash, natural light... and sometimes both!
But it's obvious I chose flash over natural light Photography when you look at my Instagram feed... But do you need flash to make better pictures?
Disclaimer, the following statements are my personal choices, based on my tastes, my experience and the type of work and art I want to produce. It may not apply to your projects and of course, we all are different, there is no right or wrong way to do things.
There are tons of videos on youtube, talking about how flash makes pictures look more professional, how you have to master flash photography to be a pro photographer, and this debate will never cease for whatever reasons.
I believe this is bullshit, the best light you can get is free and it's out there. So why do I use Flash, why do I love them so much?
For me, this can be summarized in one word... Control!
I shoot on location, with horrible schedules, I sometimes have to work fast, and most importantly I have to work with the light I have. And most of the time (I must be out of luck), my light conditions are horrible.
When working outside, you take the risk of having a flat lifeless light, with no shadows, no contrast... I hate that but what this happens, you have to learn how to deal with it.
Dafné Lugui Barbosa (Toulouse) 5D mark IV 1/200 f2.8 ISO 50 at 70mm
Lynne Hutchison (London) 5D mark IV 1/800 f4.5 ISO 800 at 85mm
And sometimes, the magic happens, the weather can change very quickly and you can work with the light you wanted. You end up making awesome images that can sometimes be impossible to replicate with strobes.
Dafne Lugui Barbosa (Toulouse) 5D mark IV 1/250 f3.5 ISO 125 at 70mm
Check where the sun is, its direction, place your model and check on your model's face the shadows and see how they behave to choose your angle. if you are shooting during midday your light source will be high up in the sky, so be careful, if you want to avoid those dark eye sockets ask your model to slightly raise their chin.
Valentina Pierini (Rome) 5D mark III 1/320 f4.5 ISO 125 at 24mm
Using the sun as your backlight is nice too, or place it slightly on the side to outline your model's body
Valentina Pierini 5D mark III 1/320 f5 ISO 125
So ideally when I know I will only have my camera I try my best to use that soft beautiful light that you can get early morning or just before sunset. And as an extreme example and way of using creatively the sun as a Backlight, you can shoot against it and embrace the light flares in your lens.
Valentina Pierini (Rome) 5D mark III 1/320 f4.5 ISO 125
Léa Roussel (Bordeaux) 5D mark III 1/200 f5 ISO 100
There are tons of photographers that have built their career on natural light photography, having a flash doesn't necessarily make your images look better. When the conditions are right, sometimes natural light is the best option.
So when I do have a light or 2 in my bag, I know I can almost face any type of situation (almost... if it rains, or if you're facing a sandstorm, you won't be able to do anything).
I've talked about this in the past, I love going after that dramatic, contrasted dark look. I started using strobes early on, and for me, it gives me more creative freedom.
If the light is flat and boring, your flash can help you make your image "pop". Sometimes slightly underexposing your background helps bring out a few details that could have been lost otherwise.
Laura Viaud (Bordeaux) 5D mark III 1/200 f4.5 ISO 100 at 24mm
Flash also helps me when I need to increase "background separation". You can achieve this by underexposing your background and of course, don't forget to expose your model correctly to balance your shot, or by backlighting your subject at the same time.
Emma la tordue (Strasbourg) 5D mark III 1/200 f4 ISO 200 atb 24mm
And of course, if you want to fill shadows, have an even exposure on your model in any conditions outdoor, If you want them to stand out, flash is always a cool tool to have :
Anna Gueho (Bordeaux) 5D mark III 1/320 f4.5 ISO 200 at 24mm
Flash also helps me a ton when I shoot indoors... Shooting in museums, churches, any location... is always a challenge. Knowing that I will have the possibility to manipulate my scene with light, or at least have a correct exposure for my model is reassuring.
Flash is not always the best solution, but it gives you more options, more opportunities to create! In the following examples, you can see the difference.
Poor light conditions, first shoot without flash
Mercedes Flores (Toulouse) 5D mark III 1/320 f2.8 ISO 3200 at 24mm
2nd shoot with 2 strobes, 2 Brconolor Sios L placed camera left and right
Bianca Chimes (Toulouse) 5D mark III 1/200 f3.2 ISO 100
It's really a matter of taste!
And there are these times when you have the best of both worlds.
Here I have my flash placed camera left to have a correct exposure on my dancer, and the sun setting is used as a backlight.
Anjara Ballesteros (Antibes) 5D mark III 1/1000 f4 ISO 100 at 24mm
Light is important... But whether it's natural or artificial, both can be used creatively to make amazing pictures!
How do you work? What do you prefer? Flash, natural light? both? Tell me in the comments below...
Do you want me to go a little more in-depth on how I use/ mix flash and natural light in my dance and sports portraits in future videos?