Getting the most from budget flashguns
Next we look at flashguns and how taking control of lighting can be the most important thing you do as a photographer.
Few accessories generate the level of polarised opinion that flashguns can. There are those who fear using them, others who hate the harsh, high-contrast results they can produce, and then there are the ‘strobists’, who use flash at every opportunity.
But with a host of automatic features and instant review to check the results, there’s no reason to be scared of using a flashgun.
However, there’s a little more to getting good results with a flashgun than simply sticking it on top of the camera and firing away on automatic. One of the biggest drawbacks for newcomers to flash is the ugly shadows and flat lighting produced when an on-camera flash is the main light source.
Staying within our £100 budget, you’ll have few alternatives to using the flash on-camera, although we’ve found one flashgun/off-camera combo that’s within our budget, such as
Here we’ll concentrate on one of the most effective ways to use your flashgun on-camera effectively. The best option is to use the on-camera flash as an additional light source in your photos.
Expose for the ambient light
When shooting with flash in daylight you’re dealing with two light sources, which can be confusing, so it’s easiest to think about each of them separately. Before you even think about the flash, you need to decide how you want to record the subject.
For this you need to get the exposure right for the ambient light falling on the background. Set the camera to manual exposure and determine the exposure you need to expose the background correctly.
When deciding on your settings for the exposure, remember that the shutter speed will also determine how much blur there is in your shot, so take a look at the box on the left to see our suggested starting points for the shutter speeds needed for a range of subjects.
Now deal with the flash
There are three main factors to consider when exposing for flash: the aperture you’ve set, the power of the flash, and the distance between the flash and the subject.
The aperture will have been determined by the exposure you set for the ambient light, so you can concentrate on the other two settings. With the flash on the camera the distance will be determined by where you’re shooting from.
Remember that most flashguns under £100 aren’t very powerful; even at f/8 the maximum distance will be around three to four metres, so be realistic about how far you are from the subject. Now all you have to consider is the output of the flash.
With most DSLRs you can set the flash to fully automatic TTL mode and rely on the camera to balance the exposure for your first forays into this technique. If you find that the main subject is too bright, use the flash exposure compensation mode to reduce the output by -1EV; if it’s too dark try setting +1EV.
PAGE 1: Best photography accessories: Tripods
PAGE 2: Setting up your tripod & features to look for
PAGE 3: Getting the most from budget flashguns
PAGE 4: Tips for using manual flash
PAGE 5: Using neutral density filters
PAGE 6 – Filter systems explained
PAGE 7 – Using ND grad filters
PAGE 8 – Using polarisers
PAGE 9 – Common problems caused by filters
8 flash photography mistakes every photographer makes (and how to avoid them)
Flash photography tips: external flash techniques anyone can understand
Flash photography made easy: master everything from pop-up flash to multiple flashguns
Flash photography basics: every common question answered