April's [DEVELOP] Challenge

For 2013 we're got a challenge to set you each month, something to get your teeth into to help you [DEVELOP] your photography skills. Some of them might be familiar concepts to you others we hope you'll never even have heard of, but by tackling them we hope you'll try out something you wouldn't have done otherwise. 

OK so its a bit intimidating and there always seems more to learn but it will improve your photos hugely if you tackle this one little thing... This month we challenge you to befriend your flash.

It doesn't matter what level of photography you're at, usually there's a flash connected to your camera (even on most camera phones). So let's see if we can each get one step better at using it. Below are some hints and tips, but mostly we'd just encourage you to try out whatever flash you've got. Play around see what changes with any options you've got. See what distance it covers and what effect it has.

DIY Hints and Tips: (increasing from basic cameras to more complex)

For Every Flash: 

For extra fun
*Slave  flash: this requires a purchase, but ebay has slave flashes for less than £10. If you've never heard of one, a slave flash is a simple flash that is triggered by another flash going off, they don't need any wires which makes them simple to combine with your camera. And you can sneak them anywhere, which gives some fun lighting options e.g put the slave in the middle of a circle of people and photograph them from outside the circle to get a séance-like effect. Or slide the slave flash onto a dance floor for some backlighting. [Note: If you've got a separate flash from your DSLR you might have a slave flash option, there'll be an on/off button marked "slave" or "s")

Phone Cameras:

There's not a huge amount of scope with the tiny LED flash, but you can still diffuse it for a less harsh glow, just tape a tiny piece of paper over the flash. Play around with tissue paper to get look you want. Or try a little piece of coloured sweet wrapper (the clear ones like on Cadbury's Roses) for a coloured filter.

Bonus: you can also use your phone's camera for other weird uses like the heart rate tracker for android,  or iphone, which checks your pulse in your finger. It works best with the camera flash turned on.

Pop up Flash

* Diffuse the flash
You can make a more fancy diffuser for a pop up flash using a plastic milk bottle, just cut and shape it to fit over your flash. The principles are the same as with using tissue paper on a phone camera (and tissue would work on a pop up as well if you can't get your hands on a milk bottle).

*Bouncing flash
Using something to reflect the light onto your subject can help to even out the results you get from a fixed flash. It's a simple as getting a piece of white paper (or better still tin foil) and positioning it to the side of your subject. This will bounce the flash back onto your item and make the light more even. This same idea can be great if you're working outside with strong sunlight, use a reflector to bounce light back into the shadowed areas of your picture if you don't want them to be totally in the dark.

DSLR (detachable flash)

Well now the fun really begins. Chances are if you bought an off camera flash separately you understand some of what it can do, or at least you've heard of the features listed.

*Bouncing flash
The simplist of flash tricks, available with any seperate flash- turn it sideways or backwards to make use of a nearby pale-coloured wall or ceiling. This will ease the direct harshness of firing the flash straight at your subject and give a much nicer result.

*DIY modifications
Use and elastic band to attach a piece of white card to your flash to bounce it in the direction of your subject. This is especially useful if you don't have a wall to bounce off. It will spread the light, reducing the distinction between the area the flash hits and the area it doesn't. When you use this indoors it has the added benefit of throwing light at your subject in two directions, directed forwards from the card and bounced off the wall.

If you add a black piece of card to your collection, you'll be able to make the most of another effect. When bouncing the flash, position the card on the side of your flash pointing directly towards your subject, this will cut some more of the harsh direct light.

*TTL + Exposure Compensation = an Easier Life
TTL (through the lens) is a monitoring mode many flashes have that monitors the light coming through the lens and alters the flash output accordingly. Learning how best to combine TTL and exposure compensation will allow you to spend a lot less time guessing in flash manual mode. I'm still learning this, so I'll leave any further explanation to this article. 

*Show Shutter Speed
Experiment in you camera's manual mode to combine a slow shutter speed with flash. This'll let you make the most of the ambient light available. If you take the speed down around 40/1 or as slow as 15/1 and use your flash on its TTL setting (which is basically the flash auto setting, but cleverly monitored by your camera) you can freeze your subjects whilst allowing more of the background lighting and motion to be captured.

*Switching to a high-speed sync
If your flash has the option, switching high sync on will be really useful for using flash to fill in when working outdoors. Basically it allows you to access shutter speeds faster than the standard flash 250/1. So if the ambient background light is rather bright, and your chosen ISO and aperture would combine with flash to overexpose your picture high-speed sync could save the day!

Mostly guys have a play around! If you'd like to try out some kit that you don't have come and have a go with some of ours! We'll be announcing a date for a [DEVELOP] gathering in May soon (excited!). Or if you can't make it, you could think about booking us for a lesson, or we could even have a little facetime chat. Get in touch!

Don't forget, to join in with the project follow along in this facebook group or use #developproject on instagram and twitter. And there's a flickr group (which could do with more members!)