Photographer alert: beware the pop-up flash scam

Look out for direct and harsh light.

There is no doubt that one of the villains of photography is the pop-up flash. Your manufacturer has supplied it with scant regard for the outcome of your photographs. You can do something about it.

It is true that most consumer cameras are fitted with a pop-up flash or similar like a flash panels on the face of the camera. The pop-up flash unit is a Light source of very Hard Light. These on-board units are very small sources of light. The direct and harsh outcome causes sharp edged shadows, washed out colours and washed out skin tones. The result makes your subjects look like they could do with a good nights sleep.

In the video Mike Brown explains why the pop-up flash is a pretty poor way to use flash. He uses an excellent and graphic way to explain how the harsh light affects the shot. I really liked the explanation. More after the video…
Uploaded by photoexposed to YouTube on Sep 23, 2010

The idea of mastering the light in pop-up flash is not a difficult one. Understanding the difference between the harsh ‘hard light’ and diffused ‘soft light‘ takes a bit of experience. However, it is really worth working on it. The results are lovely soft shadows and pleasant diffused light.

Getting away from the pop-up flash

One additional consideration that was not mentioned in the video is that the off-camera unit Mike Brown mentions is also usable off-camera. You can use extension cords, or radio transceivers to put an off-camera flash some distance from the camera. Then you can use it as a remote light.

Mike also suggested that you need to have a dedicated brand flash unit for your camera. These are very expensive. In fact you can use flash units that are unbranded. They do everything that the branded units do. They are also up to ten times cheaper!

I use a number of studio lights to work in a variety of ways. However, there are none more flexible than off-camera flash units. That’s especially true where they are linked by radio. Here are some un-branded units for you to consider. You can also buy branded units if that appeals to you as well.

In “Off-camera flash” I explain the issues more fully. I have included a look at the way branded flash units have a lot of redundant features and point out how you can connect an off-camera flash to your camera for remote work.

Nikon ‘Speedlight’ flash units, or the Canon ‘Speedlite’ (EOS flash system) range act as an independent flash for use on the camera hotshoe or as a master to trigger other speedlights off-camera. To do the latter you need one flash on the camera hotshoe and another elsewhere off camera.

Nikon Speedlights… Nikon Speedlights  Nikon Speedlights - better than pop-up flash | External link - opens new tab/pageExternal link - opens new tab/page.

Canon Speedlites… Canon Speedlites  Canon Speedlites - better than pop-up flash | External link - opens new tab/pageExternal link - opens new tab/page

Flash sync cables External link - opens new tab/page are a simple method to connect to the camera. Use a short connecting cable for a flash bracket, a five meter cable is flexible for other use.

Flash radio triggers External link - opens new tab/page are available for off-camera flash. Radio increases the distance you can work with flash, gives more control and reduces trip hazards. Radio can control more than one flash too. They may have a variety of features depending on the model and price.

If you would like more information or have questions, please leave a comment below or you can mail me from the Contact Us page on this site.

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