Flash Phobia – I’m so over that

I’ve made my mind up, 2019 is the year I finally get to grips with the flashgun.

In my decades long experiment with being a photographer I’ve had a mixed relationship with the flashgun; ok, look, ‘_speedlight_’ wasn’t a thing in 1977 and it’s not going to be a thing now, it’s a flashgun. I mean I’ve owned one since the first camera I owned which didn’t have one built in, but I’ve never really felt like I wanted to use it. The first thing was a little two AA thing, can’t remember the make, certainly I couldn’t afford a Vivitar. Anyway we’re talking your classic early, one step up from the bulb, flashgun. Camera to 1/60, guess how far away the subject was, set the aperture from the table on the back and bob’s your uncle. So long as you got the steps right it didn’t turn in a bad job really. But I didn’t really use it much, mainly because I didn’t really think I needed to as most of what I photographed was outdoors. A couple of years later I traded up to one which took 4 AAs, and had a cable so it didn’t have to sit on top of the prism; still got it. Okay, sidebar, a year or so back my mother in law gave me all her old camera stuff she no longer had use for, in it was a Vivitar flashgun! Yep, at long last I have one, you know, when it’s obsolete..

Well I did use that one more, I’d graduated to taking photographs indoors a lot by that stage; museum exhibits and so forth that being the days when you could detonate an old fashioned flash gun in a museum gallery and nobody cared. I’d also begun to use it to photograph people, with the aid of an impressive bit of engineering called a flash bracket which moved the flashgun off to the side, think press photographer in the 50s and you’re there. Again, it was all down to remembering to set the flash sync speed of 1/60, distance, aperture off the table, job’s a good-un. Or more often than not, it wasn’t. I blame the lack of comprehensible instructions as we didn’t have ‘online’ then, just the occasionally helpful article in Amateur Photographer (or Amateur Pornographer as it was widely known then). Or I blame the fact that in the days of film it was too expensive to practice systematically. Actually I think I need to blame the fact that I didn’t put in the effort. It wasn’t something I thought you needed to ‘learn’, it just happened.

So fast forward to today and, as a result of a lot of Youtube one thing is clear. Flash photography bloody well is something you need to learn, you can’t just pick it up and go for it. There’s a whole world of modifiers, light stands, C stands, reflectors, ttl, ettl, manual triggers, etc out there. Compared to my old ‘not a vivitar’ flashgun it’s like commanding The Enterprise. Last year I decided to at least make the investment in a decent modern flashgun, based on advice on the Interwebs I opted for a Yongnuo as a budget beast. But still I wasn’t actually using flash, it was all about ‘natural light’, what the hell would be ‘unnatural light’, does it mean you’ve summoned Cthulhu or something? Essentially though, I just don’t believe that I can get a decent photo with a flashgun because in all this technology I’m going to stuff it up. At least with available light I know what I’m doing. But this year, in 2019 CE, 1440 if you’re a muslim, 227 if you’re a lingering French Revolutionary and 2772 if you’re holding out for the return of the legions, _I’m going to learn to shoot with flash_.

It’s occurred to me you see that, actually, I’m ducking this bit of kit for no good reason and potentially I’m just not taking the best photos I could. So many great photographers use flash because they need to in order to get the results they want. Also this year I want to do more people photography and I don’t want to limit my options to only being able to shoot outdoors during the day when it’s not raining. I short enough of subjects as it is, I don’t want to miss out on any opportunities. Also, there are creative options I’m not able to explore at the moment to use light in an imaginative way. So I’ve decided to get out the Yongnuo, work through the tutorials on Lynda on using Flash (no they don’t sponsor my blog), and take loads of flash photos. I finished the first part of the beginner’s flash course on flash as fill light. Simply this involves sticking it on the top of the camera and using the flash compensation to get the right degree of light. And took this rather nice photo of Suki the cat, which I couldn’t have done with the available room light.

Photo of Suki the cat

So it’s opening up new creative opportunities already, right now I’m just working with the flash on top of the camera with a small softbox attached to the front. The Lynda course I did was pretty much all about that method so I’m going with that; given that almost all the tutorials you find on Youtube are about off camera flash with a radio trigger and stands it’s a relief. I suspect that having to get out ‘the stuff’ before I could practice was one of the barriers, while now I keep the camera with the flash attached on the desk and periodically I just get up and photograph the cats, or something inanimate around the house, or anything just to get used to the idea of using the flash. I’m just working with the TTL mode on the Flash and using the inbuilt compensation on it rather than moving on to manual flash adjustment straight away.

Don’t know what flashgun phobia is…but I think I’m cured of it.

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Learning to Light (without bothering anybody)

One of my goals for the year has been to get over flashaphobia, or speedlightaphobia and perhaps we should now call it. Of course I owned a flash gun back in my film days but it was pretty basic and I never got good results with it. I suspect this was down to lack of information, but also down to lack of putting in the time to learn. Well, one advantage of digital is that you have as near as dammit limitless learning time. You can take hundreds of shots at zero cost while you learn and with the instant ability to view you can learn fast. So I bought a Yongnuo speedlight and radio trigger, hit the Youtube videos and started learning how to use it.

It becomes however rapidly apparent to anybody with a shred of interpersonal feeling that getting one of your nearest and dearest to sit there being hammered with bright light during this learning process isn’t really fair. Especially given that, as it’s a learning process, the images aren’t really going to be that good. Therefore, drum roll please, we have my solution to this issue – my stand in model – Wilson

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Actually it works pretty well, the basics are there and he never complains about being bored or having other stuff to go off and do. Also if you get the angle of the flash wrong he doesn’t have to spend the next hour with huge purple splodges in his field of vision.