ON camera flash – surely you jest..?

With the current trend to get that hunk of light emitting plastic off the top of the camera, we are encouraged to become sculptors – our palette? Light!  Anything from reflected, direct or fashioned by the hand of… well, the photographer (or an assistant). In need of a new glossary, we’re now hearing terms like hard-light, soft-light, feather, beauty dish, soft-box, clam-shell, flag, gobo, ‘black foamie thing’ (read Neil’s book) etc.  If you’re not careful, we can easily become swamped and therefore confused.  And with confusion comes indecision or at worst, turning your back on something that can make us better

As photographers we, by and large, are now hard-wired into the digital revolution. Instant feedback and the current crop of excellent cameras means making a great photograph is as hard now (if not harder) than it’s ever been. The digital age simply allows us to discover quickly just how hard.  There’s no waiting in line at BonusPrint for your film to be developed; no waiting to see your prints come off the print line having had some unknown corrections made by the lab. You see your corrected images and then think you’re an exposure god. Digital cameras allow us to instantly see our photographs and sometimes those unprocessed results are shocking.  Bad and good.

And so the digital experience has brought with it a group of people that are willing to share their photographic experiences and knowledge to help us grow –photographically-speaking – much quicker than by your own trial and error.  We can of course learn by our own mistakes but we can also learn by everyone else’s too.  It’s a new way of learning; it’s a breath of fresh air; it’s confidence boosting; you’re not alone.

The most notable of current tuition, in the use of flash techniques, comes from Dave Hobby at the Strobist blog who mostly compels photographers to get their flash gun off the camera.  However, there are times when this isn’t practical – for example you might be at a wedding where the environment and other factors change quickly.  Carting a light-stand with a flash and modifier will slow you down and stop you being fluid with the events of the day.  Under such conditions you could argue that if you’re good enough there should be no need for flash and this may be true, but wouldn’t you like to have the ability of shaping light at will and making it look natural?  I would.  Even more so if the flash gun remained on top of the camera for then you have choice.

On-Camera FlashEnter stage right a book written by successful photographer Neil van Niekerk…

On-Camera Flash is 124 pages or an afternoon read of excellent teaching.  The sort of teaching that walks you through the thought process and exact settings for each image.  Neil’s book explores exposure metering, light-shaping tools and how, with a little thought, you can leave your flash on top of the camera and record a photograph that does not look like a flash was used.  And there’s a host of further chapters filled with golden nuggets.

My copy of the book is well-thumbed. Many of the pages are now dog-eared and even though I also make a living from photography,  I work on the notion that no matter what I know, there is always something to learn.

Neil van Niekerk

Neil van Niekerk

These are 124 pages of knowledge that demystifies the use of on-camera flash.  Neil helps navigate photographers round the common pitfalls of creating flat light, harsh light and shadows, the cavernous black backgrounds we’re all familiar seeing and instead draws us into a world that requires a little thought.  You learn how to finesse your light, shape it and allow the beauty of your subject to shine through.

Currently priced around £16 on, I heartily recommend adding this book to your library.  It’s a great read and will enhance your photography beyond your expectations – a tall claim but achievable.  Take his thoughts and practice, practice, practice.

Neil, like Dave Hobby, generously shares his ideas via his blog.  He’s active and posts often and takes time to reply to questions asked via his blog. What I know, his blog has an extraordinary amount of information in it which will take you more than a day to explore, but well worth it.

Paul photographs for business and pleasure; why not visit his website or Flickr stream.

  1. Neil van Niekerk 15th October 2010
  2. Gary Stevenson 18th October 2010
  3. Jitesh Mistry 20th October 2010
  4. Josie Fraser 31st January 2011

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