Working with Off-Camera Flash is Great!
An off-camera flash is an extremely mobile and versatile light source that packs a lot of punch for its small size but, as with any tool, there are drawbacks or limitations. Because the flash’s head is so small, it produces a very hard directional light that may not be ideal for every situation; for example, when your shot calls for a soft or broad volume of light. Not to worry, there’s an easy remedy, and I’d like to walk you through a few benefits of working with a softer light source, as well.
Here are two basic rules that will help you convert raw hard light into a more pleasing soft light. (I know, rules are no fun, but we need to learn them if we’re going to apply, bend, or break them in the future. The more tools in your belt, the better equipped you are to meet the image in your mind’s eye.)
Rule #1: The larger the light source, the softer the light.
Rule #2: The closer the light source, the softer the light. By bringing it closer, you increase the size of the light source in relation to the subject. (Sure, the sun is a huge light source but it’s so far away, it isn’t very soft at all; just take a photograph outside at high noon and you’ll see what I mean.)
To upsize the light—outside of just moving it around—we’ll need to modify our flash. The most common, cost-eff-icient entry into larger lighting modifiers is a simple umbrella. Of the options out there, a large reversible umbrella is by far the most versatile. By directing the flash through a white translucent umbrella, we greatly increase the surface area of our light source, and we can still bring the light in really close to our subject. (Portraiture is a great example of where you can start using a soft lighting technique like this.) A softer light transitions slowly from highlight to shadow and diffuses the heavy contrast that would otherwise appear. This soft, wrapping light is very flattering to use on just about anyone—women, small children, and older folks will especially love you for this. Check out the striking difference from using just a bare flash vs. a flash shot through a large 7′ parabolic umbrella.