Advanced Tutorial 6

There’s a lot more to using a flash than popping up the unit and snapping away – consider the addition to your kit of flashguns, directed, reflected, synchronised and diffused – for a start! Here, we look at creative use of flash and some key specialist functions to help you get the most from additional light.

6

Advanced flash operation

Previously, we’ve looked at adding light to shots by using a camera’s built-in flash and some of its flash mode options. Here, we will concentrate on external flashguns and the advantages they bring. If using a built-in flash has left you with images that are either too stark, with bleached-out facial features – or too dim, with too little light falling on your subject ­­– then an external flash can address both these issues and more.

The correct type of external flash can offer the following benefits over a built-in flash:

  • A broader and more flattering light source
  • A stronger, more far-reaching source
  • More direction control for bounced and indirect light
  • An off-axis light source to eliminate red-eye
  • A softer, diffused light – when partnered with a diffuser
  • Synchronised multiple light sources – when using flash groups

Why might you need more power?

For many simple situations the camera’s own flash will suffice, however once you start to work with subjects at greater distances, or in more open spaces, you may well find that a small, pop-up unit fails to provide the level of light output required. An additional flashgun can offer both a greater range, camera to subject, as well as the flexibility to light the subject from different positions.

Typical power ratings on LUMIX G built-in flashes range from GN4 to GN12, which means the useable distance at ISO 100 is just 4-12 metres. Panasonic’s range of mountable external flashes, as shown below, offer from 22m up to 50m, and so can be used to take your flash photography to the next level.

DMW_FL220

DMW_FL220 (GN22)

DMW_FL360L

DMW-FL360L (GN36)

DMW_FL500E

DMW-FL500E (GN50)

 


14478_DMC-GH3AEB-K Slant FlashV2

The Panasonic swivel and tilt FL500 mounted on the LUMIX GH3

Using external flashguns

The most common type of external flashgun is the ‘hot shoe’ flash – the hot shoe being the mount with electrical contacts on top of the camera that is designed to accommodate an external flash and other accessories. You simply remove the cover, slide the flashgun into place, and it comes under the camera’s control. Always remember to use good-quality batteries in the flashgun and have both it and the camera turned off while fixing the flashgun into place.

With a flashgun mounted, the built-in flash will be disabled and the mounted unit can be set to operate in various ways. Fully automatically, under the control of the camera, it can be adjusted through the menu system, as shown – with options such as anti-red-eye and slow synch. The camera will control the firing and output via its TTL (through the lens) metering. The exact options will depend on both your camera and the flashgun in use.

Flash Menu 1

The camera’s ‘Flash setting’ menu can also control external flash operation

Flash Menu 2

A full range of flash options will be available

 Or, you can let the flash do the metering and calculate its own output. To access the full range of creative possibilities, however, it may be desirable to set the flash manually. It is usually possible to set the output to a fixed level, with the advantage that the brightness remains constant for all your shots.


Off-camera flash

Having a flashgun not directly attached to the camera (remote flash) means you can light your subject in a more controlled way – have it at a greater distance, yet illuminated so as to emphasise its isolation. An off-camera flash may allow for a strong directional light, perhaps counterbalancing excessive natural light. And don’t forget that having the flash away from the axis of the lens will also effectively eliminate red-eye.

Another advantage of a remote flashgun, even just a small distance away, is in making your subject look more 3-dimensional. Direct light can produce a flat and shadow less result, as in the first image below, whereas the remote flash setup shown emphasises the subject’s contours – as you can see in the final image.

Direct Flash

Shot taken with on-board pop-up flash

Use of a remote flash to light from the left and slightly above

Use of a remote flash to light from the left and slightly above

Remote Flash Side Light

The final result – a more contoured, 3D image

 


Wireless and multiple flashguns

Wireless connectivity now allows photographers to have full control over their flashgun(s) without cumbersome cables. Panasonic uses the built-in flash to send a control signal to additional flashguns. It is possible to use the pop-up’s output as a component of the exposure, or only the output of the remote flashgun(s).

Some cameras are able to control more than one flashgun remotely – perhaps configuring three in a manner similar to a photographic studio setup. It is even possible to have different groups of flashguns and switch between them by selecting different control channels. Not every photographer will feel the need for such complex setups, but the Panasonic remote flash control system can meet the needs of even the most demanding photographer.

wireless_control group_image

In this example (right), three flashguns are configured so the photographer controls a number of combinations. There are no absolute rules for such positioning, although you will need to place your flashguns to allow a line of sight between them and the camera’s pop-up unit, so the remote control functions correctly.

You can also use reflectors or diffusers to soften the light and flashguns need not point directly at the subject. Sometimes, you may wish to light the background instead of the subject, or bounce light off walls or ceilings for a more ‘scattered’ effect. Remember, though, if it’s a coloured wall, your subject will then take on that colour.


Flash synchronisation

Flash Sync error

Simulation of what might happen if the exposure is set too fast for the flash to be captured completely

This refers to the camera’s ability to use shutter speeds that allow flash bursts to be captured correctly. The actual duration of a flash can be as short as 1/10,000th of a second; the shutter doesn’t need to be the same, but it must be able to trigger the flash so it fires when the shutter is fully open. A focal plane-type shutter mechanism (mechanical or electronic) actually breaks down into three phases of operation: first curtain opening, shutter fully open, second curtain closing:

All cameras have a flash synch speed – usually 1/60th to 1/250th sec; this will be the fastest shutter speed that can be set where the camera can also trigger the flash at its fully open shutter stage. It is important then, that when setting up a flash shot manually, your shutter speed is not too fast. You can set any speed under the maximum synch speed, and the flash will be captured as part of the exposure, along with available ambient light.


Advanced flash techniques

A number of techniques can be used creatively with your flash photography. We have mentioned reflectors and diffusers – actually tools for modifying/controlling the light – and you can add another dimension by using FP (Focal Plane) Emission or High-speed Syncro setting. This is enabled on the flashgun, rather than the camera, and works by emitting a rapid pulse of very short light bursts, which allows a much higher shutter speed to be selected for freezing high-speed movement.

TTL AUTO - Brightly corrects the image to show the water flow

TTL AUTO – Brightly corrects the image to show the water flow

FP Emission - The fast shutter speed freezes the water spray

With FP Emission – enabling a fast shutter speed, freezing the water spray


The LUMIX Advantage

LUMIX G cameras all have the ability to work with the FP Emission facility found on Panasonic’s range of flashguns, allowing you to produce striking and exciting images beyond the capabilities of regular flash. Also, when using the DMW FL360L unit, multi-group wireless control is available with the DMC-GH3, GH4, GX7, G6 and GF6 cameras.

Shooting Exercise

Whichever model you have, experiment with flash – especially second-curtain synchronisation. Not got an additional flashgun? Remember you can maximise the range of your pop-up flash by using a higher ISO. So why not find some moving lights and get creative? Tip – A fairground offers colourful and dynamic picture opportunities!

Not sure what something means? Read our glossary

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Written by Steve Lucas for Panasonic ©