Foreword - Creative flash photography : great lighting with small flashes: 40 flash workshops (2014)

Creative flash photography : great lighting with small flashes: 40 flash workshops (2014)


Author’s Foreword

Maybe you feel the same way I did when I first came across flash. I was certainly skeptical and had the harsh look of the typical mug shot in mind, and I had reservations about tackling the technology. My first flash was a computer flash with functionality that eluded me. But after I repeatedly saw the fantastic images by David “Strobist” Hobby, Zack Arias, Joe McNally, Ryan Brenizer, and Neil van Niekerk, my curiosity got the better of me. The Strobist blog (strobist.blogspot. com) and David’s Lighting 101 and Lighting 102 tutorials offered a perfect introduction to the world of flash technique. I am especially proud of the fact that the “Strobist” himself has contributed an exclusive foreword to this book. Thanks, David—this book probably wouldn’t exist without you!

I quickly learned that flash doesn’t have to automatically kill an image with bright light, red eyes, and hard-edged shadows. In fact, it is more like a pocket sun that can—with a little practice—be used to emulate and enhance natural light in a range of situations. I soon began to keep a diary of the lighting setups that are now part of this book. It includes lighting diagrams, the photos that resulted from each session, and a wealth of information describing how I took each image.

The book is divided in two main sections. Part 1 contains a crash course in basic flash technique. There is also an introduction to the flash gear I have found useful over the years, which I hope will save you the time and money I spent trying out a lot of useless accessories.

Part 2 contains 40 workshops with detailed explanations of various flash scenarios, including people, portraits, high-speed flash, macro, products, food, and more. The workshops highlight specific lighting and flash techniques—such as cross lighting and high-speed sync, or dragging the shutter—and give you a solid set of tools that will allow you to light any scene effectively. The techniques range from the simple use of your camera’s built-in flash to stroboscopic setups with seven or more off-camera flashes. Other sections address techniques such as pseudo-HSS/Supersync, key shifting, infrared triggers, projecting patterns with gobos, and much more. Things get really interesting when you begin to practice and combine the techniques to develop your own unique style.

I have never found an adequate explanation of how to precisely and easily calculate an exposure when using both flash and ambient light, so appendix A contains real-world sample exercises (and solutions) to help you get the hang of calculating exposure values and guide numbers. Although these exercises might seem uninspiring, they will help you learn how to precisely produce the lighting effects you like. Appendix B introduces some useful tools for creating lighting diagrams. Additional appendices contain a valuable list of additional resources and a glossary of useful terms for the strobist.

Because I am a Canon user, you might find this book somewhat specific to Canon gear, although I refer to the Nikon equivalents wherever possible. Gear manufactured by Metz, Pentax, and others is just as effective as the equipment I describe, and as soon as you switch to manual mode you are free to use whatever brand you want anyway.

And now I wish you great lighting and a constant stream of wow moments with your own flash images.

Tilo Gockel

Please send your comments, criticisms, and other feedback (including inquires regarding the models shown in this book) to

Foreword by David Hobby

I was seven years old the first time I can remember using a camera. It was 1972. We were at a family reunion, and my uncle let me use his new Canonet G-III. To me it seemed like magic, and I was hooked. Just one year later I had my own camera and a small darkroom in a shed in my backyard. Watching an image appear in the developer tray was yet more magic. From that point on I was rarely seen without a camera in my hand. In high school, a staff position on the class yearbook meant two things: first, I had license to explore the school with my camera; second, someone else was paying for my film. Five years later I was a newspaper photojournalist, a career that I would enjoy for 25 years. Many of those years were spent shooting black-and-white film, where light quality was a luxury and the color of the light really didn’t matter.

That all changed when we switched to color film, especially because we shot transparencies. All of a sudden, light mattered. It mattered a lot. We needed to learn how to improve the lighting by combining ambient light and electronic flash. If you kept the flash on your camera, the results were fairly safe and predictable. For a newspaper photographer shooting in lots of run-and-gun situations, safety and predictability were good things. A flash on a camera is good at one thing: illuminating detail; but you are essentially lighting with all the creativity of a photocopier. We quickly learned that if we took the small flashes off our cameras, safety and predictability were replaced by magic and surprise. The magic was that our photos could capture the world in a much more three-dimensional way. With a difference between lens position and light position form and texture could be shown. The surprise was that the results were pretty unpredictable, thanks to the unforgiving exposure latitude of transparency film and the fact that we had to wait until the film was processed to see the results of our lighting experiments. So we played it safe and over time learned how to light.

Being both curious and patient, through trial and error we slowly filled our bag of lighting tricks. The photos from our assignments began to look better, cleaner, and more interesting. But because of the slow learning pace, the results were still predictable. That all changed in 1988 when we switched to digital cameras. Now we had instant feedback. We could try anything with our lights and immediately see the changes to our photos. The result was a sort of Cambrian explosion for our lighting techniques. Our skill level grew quickly with each passing assignment. We were studying the work of other photographers to learn as much as we could.

The effects previously attainable only with big, expensive, heavy lights tied to power cords could be achieved with small battery-powered flashes—or, as we called them, speedlights, which were about the size of a sandwich. We quickly grew to think of these lights as being near magic that could light anything. The magic had always been there, of course, but just like in a fantasy tale, we now had the ability to see the magic. The flash happens in just 1/1000 second or less, which is much faster than the human eye can perceive. But since we could instantly see the results on the backs of our cameras, we could quickly adjust the power or position of the light to achieve the effect we wanted. That led to the development of our lighting intuition. With experience, we began to see and predict the quality of our off-camera lights before we captured an image. When I held a tiny little speed-light in my hands, I saw it with the familiarity of a very powerful, continuous light source. We had made the leap of understanding what happened too fast for our eyes to see. In early 2006 I decided to share what others and I had learned, just as others had helped me build my photographic skills more than 20 years earlier. The Internet had become ubiquitous, and companies like Google allowed people to create a blog for free.

In 2006, I started with the goal of creating the first website about photographic lighting that was both 100% open about small flash photographic lighting and absolutely free. It seemed like a neat idea for an experiment and since it cost me nothing to try, there was no risk other than my lost time. As it turned out, there were many, many photographers who wanted to understand the light from their small flashes. By the end of the first day, Strobist had received over 5,000 views. Within a month, that number had grown to 250,000. There was no turning back. As a result, now tens of millions of people have learned from Strobist to better understand the devices that allow them to control the most important variable in their photographic world. Other websites have sprung up all over the world to echo the idea that lighting can be easily taught—and learned.

Entrepreneurial photographers who saw solutions to lighting problems have created amazing new lighting products and modifiers. Other photographers had a passion for lighting and a desire to teach others, so they wrote books. Like the one you are now holding in your hand.

If you are just beginning the journey of learning about photographic lighting, welcome. The path is fun and the rewards are many. The only requirement is a willingness to believe in something that happens too fast for you to truly see, and to be open to the magic that can happen if you are willing to let it.