beginner flash

Last week, I had the pleasure of shooting the Russell family again. They wanted some fun pics for their Christmas card, and Jill had a specific vision she was going for… Christmas wrapping paper on the wall and cheezy poses kind of vision. It was awesome! I know I said it before, but this family is so much fun to photograph. I couldn’t ask for better models or a more relaxed setting to learn portrait photography in; they were very understanding of my beginner-level flash skills and home-made lighting set. That’s right – I said “flash” – it’s time I learn how to use it. Even if I only had the built-in camera flash to work with, I was determined to do something with the light so I didn’t get washed out skin tones or super shadowy noses in my photos. Anyone who’s used a point and shoot with flash knows what I’m talking about.


So here’s what I did, and what I learned on my first adventure with flash… I started by making my own little soft box to diffuse the harsh on-camera flash. This is just a piece of plastic from a milk jug, molded to fit over the pop-up flash. I contemplated covering the sides, but this flash isn’t good to begin with, so I didn’t bother. Once I had this ready to go, I did some practice shots with my husband (he was thrilled – getting flashed over and over as I learned the settings and menus I’ve never touched before haha!) I was determined to still shoot in manual, so it was a matter of learning how the flash and shutter speed can work. I’m still no expert, but I got it figured out enough to shoot. Next, I went to Dollar General in search of some option for cheap, home-made studio lighting. I was thinking maybe an umbrella I could paint or cover, and a shop light. Well, that wasn’t what I ended up with…

lightingThere were some cheap lamp stands in there, and the disposable turkey pans were on sale from Thanksgiving – hmm – perhaps we could mold those to fit behind a lightbulb? James liked this plan better than the umbrella. So, for about $10 we went home with two turkey pans (just in case the shaping didn’t go well on my first try) and a lamp stand. We ended up with a great hot-light, but when I shot some practice photos with it, I was seeing an awful lot of shadows… back to Dollar General for another lamp stand to put the other pan on, and voila! Two hot-lights… plus an extension cord all for about $20. I was pretty excited with our handiwork. They are a bit eccentric looking, but they get the job done. I was able to shoot our own Christmas cards with just these lights, as I wanted Christmas lights on the tree behind us to show up and not disappear from the bright flash.

My setup for the Russell’s photo shoot was coupling these lights along with the flash. This was my first indoor photo shoot, and I was nervous about getting enough quality images for their Christmas card. I knew the wrapping paper would be a challenge, because it would reflect light a bit more than just a blank wall. To avoid a big reflection, I tried to do most of my shots at an angle – meaning the light from my on-camera flash didn’t fire directly at the paper. This worked pretty well, but it definitely made me wish I had a better flash and the ability to take it off the camera. Perhaps a little off-camera flash setup will be my next photography purchase. This experience showed me the value of that, and it also made me realize that I actually really like shooting portraits. This may be something I want to pursue and really practice, as I have enjoyed every portrait shoot I’ve done. With a little in-studio lighting equipment and experience, I would feel more comfortable marketing myself for portrait photography. I prefer the look of natural light, but sometimes it’s just not available and I’d like to be prepared for those situations.

I knew going into this shoot that if I could get a good shot at ISO100, I could bring up the exposure a bit in post-processing without degrading the image much. My goal was to have enough light to allow for this setting indoors, and thanks to my little lamps, that’s what I got. My light was better for the individual shots, because I got closer to my subject by standing just in-front of the lamps. The family shots were a bit darker, but still turned out good after a bit of increased exposure in post-processing. Here is an example of a photo I got straight out of my camera, and how it looked after I finished editing.

Obviously, my on-camera flash still caused a bit of red-eye that had to be corrected along with the white-balance for a better skin tone. But, the lighting system did its job! Jill wanted to have a funny glamor type of shot for each of them, along with a family photo for their card.

This shot isn’t quite cheezy enough for the purpose of this shoot, but she’s so beautiful!

They all did so well posing and definitely pulled off their theme. I was impressed. :) And… here’s the final product she put together! So fun!

russells xmas

I’m ready to get a real flash and learn more about using lights indoors. Some pretty cool things can be done with controlled lighting, and I want to know how! Getting familiar with flash will be my goal for next year.


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