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It’s interesting how many digital photographers, especially amateurs, seem confused about why or how to use an off-camera light source. They tend to rely on an on-camera flash; however, it casts light from an angle that is parallel to the sensor plane, which is quite unnatural and causes their photos to lack snap, dimensionality and interest. Many of these photographers seem to forget or are unaware that throughout the day (and night) all humans are lit by light from various angles. Sit at your desk and the angle of the lamplight is across the desk’s surface or your computer keyboard. Stand outside and the sun’s ray don’t strike you from directly overhead, or at a 90-degree angle. (That only occurs in the narrow band between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn).
It’s also safe to assume that many of these photographers view and study professional-quality still photos and motion pictures, and virtually all are lit by off-axis light sources. Yet, they don’t apply this same principle to the flash-assisted photos they shoot because leaving the flash on the camera is much too convenient. Some of these photographers do learn how to bounce their flash, so the light reflects from the walls or ceilings. When doing so, they are angling the light; however, they must take the next step and remove the flash unit from the camera.
If you’re a photographer having trouble taking that next step, then continue reading, as this PhotographyTalk.com article does its best to coax you forward.
When you photograph any scene or object, there are two angles, or views, you must coordinate: the angle of your camera, which determines the contents of the image, and the angle of the light, which determines how the contents will be lit. Some may be struck fully by the light source, some with just a little light and others no light. In a sense, the light source must be able to “see” the contents of your image to illuminate them, just as your camera must do to record them. To use this principle to your advantage, you must develop the skills not only to view the image through your camera, but also view it, in your mind, from the angle of the light. Once you can visualize both points of view, you will have much more control of the shooting process and understand how to move and manipulate the light source to create/to paint better photos.
Another little mind trick you should learn is to think of the quick flash of light as a constant light source, much the same as a bulb in a lamp or a streetlight. From almost the very first day you put a camera in your hands, you became aware of whatever constant light was illuminating your framed image. You quickly learned to take pictures with the sunlight behind you and how to pose people indoors near windows for the additional light. The light from a flash is no different, except that it provides the light in a quick burst instead of a continuous flow.
To help you understand these concepts from a more practical perspective, try this experiment. Stand in front of a mirror. In one hand, grasp a table lamp or other light source. Hold the light directly opposite one side of your face; then, move it to a low angle and high angle on that side of your body. Now, take the lamp in your other hand and move it to these same positions on the other side of your body. Even place it directly above and below your face. Study how the direction of the light changes on your face and the shadows that are created and how it causes your face to look differently from various angles.
Duplicate this experiment with your camera and flash unit. Place your camera on a table between you and the mirror. Detach the flash unit from your camera and hold it at the same angles to your face as you did the table lamp. Then, fire your flash from these angles. You can even hold the table lamp at an angle and then immediately trigger the flash from the same angle to observe how the light strikes your face in the exact same manner. Repeating this exercise as often as necessary will thoroughly ingrain this concept in your mind and help you take a significant step forward as a better digital photographer.
Also See: 7 Reasons for moving to full frame