Does Flash Have to Look Like…Flash?

Suki and I headed out to the beach for a stroll along the water this evening after I got off work. The weather has been totally gloomy in San Francisco lately, however, so there wasn’t any dramatic light to make use of when arrived on sight. The test shot I took of her above gives you an indication of what kind of light was out there tonight. Blegh…Suki knows it too.

There was simply too much wind to use any sort of large light modifier, so I had to add some light in with my bare strobes. What to do? Thought I’d create a sunset-like effect with a single SB-900 placed maybe 20 or 30 feet from our position. Here’s how it turned out:

Placed a full cut of orange gel (CTO) over the bare SB-900 to give it the orange glow you’d expect from the sun when it’s low on the horizon. See? Flash doesn’t have to look like “flash,” right?

Now Suki is getting into it!


Nikon D300s + Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8

16 thoughts on “Does Flash Have to Look Like…Flash?

  1. I’m a complete amateur when it comes to photography so pardon the stupid question:

    I don’t quite get how you were able to use the flash behind you. Doesn’t it have to be connected/on the camera to work?

    Again, sorry if this question is completely ridiculous =]

    1. Not a stupid question at all!

      Nikon integrates the ability to remotely command flash units optically into many of its cameras. In some cameras, like mine, you can use your built-in pop-up flash to trigger a remote unit. You can also use a hot shoe mounted flash as a commander. In this case, I did the latter, since the pop-up didn’t have line of sight with the flash located behind my position.

      I twisted the on-camera flash toward the remote flash so the remote flash could see the command pulses coming from the on-camera unit. Here’s a picture that, on a small scale, shows how the remote flash was positioned relative to the camera:

      The wireless system did the rest. Hope this made sense! =)

  2. Jonathan, you really capture wonderful photos of Suki. I was just paging through them – some I’d seen before and some I hadn’t – and they made me smile just exactly when a smile was what I needed. 🙂

  3. that’s such a cool idea!

    i really need to learn how to use flash. i own one and know how to mount it on top of my camera, and it fires and sometimes the effect is ok, heheh. but since i actually have my official first wedding gig in november, i will have to learn it in the next couple of months.

    1. Congrats on the gig! I’m sure you’ll do a fantastic job. You know, once I learned that light from a flash can be color modified, shaped, diffused, bounced, and directed in all sorts of ways, I became really interested in using small flashes in my photography. I try to make the light look naturally-occurring if I can.

      Wish you success in learning up on flashes! It will really open up many possibilities for you, so I encourage it for sure =)

    1. The sun may be huge, but since it’s so far away, it becomes a ridiculously powerful yet relatively small, harsh light source. Not that hard to imitate with a small flash, depending on the circumstances. McNally is my biggest inspiration in the art taking creative control of a scene with flash units while making their light look natural. Thanks!

  4. What a creative idea! As a beginner photographer, I haven’t even mastered the camera’s built-in functions yet, but I thrive to beat the best. =)

    If you don’t mind me asking, do you purposefully go out and look for something to photograph, or do the shots just come as time gives you something interesting to photograph?

    1. Thanks for your comment!

      To answer your question, I think photography has a lot to do with both. I bring my camera with me everywhere, so in that sense I’m always sort of looking for something to shoot. Sometimes I have a shot in mind and I work to execute it. Other times, I have no plan at all but to carefully observe my environment, wherever I happen to be. Many great shots happen because the photographer is at the right place at the right time.

      In this case, I had no plan. Just go to the beach and figure it out from there =)

  5. Hi Jonathan,
    I stumbled over your blog just in a period I try to overcome my flashophobia, and just wanted you to know that your blog is really helpful for me. Maybe because you don’t overdo the whole flash thing AND because I totally like your subject – my interest in photography started when I got my cats, and it is evolving with the advent of my dogs.
    Cheers from germany,

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