Daily Life Photography Tips

Mastering Flash Photography – Part 1

I’ve made a few photography goals this year.

One of my goals: master on-location flash photography.

When I first started wanting to improve my portrait photography (back in 2014 in China), I purchased a flash and learned basic functions. This was before I had a studio with all my ‘fancy’ gear, so I used the flash to photograph headshots and a few family sessions. I quickly learned that I did not enjoy setting up and using flash for family portraits because I would rather chase kids around trying to get all the “in-between” moments of families, rather than one perfectly posed and lit photo. It just became something “in the way”, rather than a useful tool.

Since that first year learning flash, I’ve invested in studio gear and studio lighting. I understand lighting a lot more then I did back then, but I don’t think I would feel comfortable bringing a flash or two to a location. I want to change that.

My plan is not to change how I photograph families but gain a new skill that I can use in my toolkit. And have fun doing it! Enjoy this story.


Saturday was the first night I took my flash out of the studio. At first, I tried setting up my Canon 430 flash. I turned it on, put triggers on both my camera and the flash, and pressed the shutter button. The flash did not go off. Hmmm. I tried switching out the batteries. That didn’t work. I tried turning it on and turning it back off, but that also did not work. I said some profanity, and it finally started working.

After I attached my really cheap purchased-in-china light stand and umbrella, I brought it into the back room where my son likes to play and told him he could have a cookie if he listed to me and let me take a few pictures of him. He ran over to the sofa with his part scream part laugh. I didn’t bother changing him out of his shark sweatshirt into something cuter because I knew that would be too much to ask.

I pressed my shutter, the flash did not go off. I thought crap, something might have disconnected, so I took the triggers that were on both the camera and the flash off and on. I pressed the shutter again, forgot my son was in the room and (sorry Mike) may have yelled a bunch of profanity. The flash fell off the trigger, and I yelled some more as I also hit the chandelier with my head that is in a completely wrong location in our backroom. Jackson started yelling (fortunately not the profanity that I was), and running around. Then I remembered…

My F**ed up Canon flash never worked consistently. That’s why I bought a cheaper Youngnu Flash. Switched them out, and the flash worked perfectly 🙂

The experience

By this time my son was done modeling. He saw the bright red light on the flash and decided he would rather press that button so a bright light hit me and not him. I let him hold my Canon flash. He had tons of fun blinding me as I kept following him around the couch yelling at him “lay this way not that way!!”

Here it is. This is the result of the 22.5 seconds I had where my 3.5-year old let me photograph him playing on our couch. I call the project a success, my son has not repeated my profanity and I ended up with some pictures I don’t hate. And remembered I need to throw out my Canon flash.

Make sure to scroll to the end and read about what I learned.

Pre-school boy covering face with hands in Fairbanks Alaska
Preschool boy laughing while lit up by flash photography
small boy holding Canon flash
small boy holding flash towards camera taken by clickingwithkim
Small boy looking at camera
small blonde boy with flash umbrella lighting his face
small boy laughing
Small boy reaching out towards camera
small boy looking tired towards the camera
Small boy touching hair
Small boy being photographed by a camera flash umbrella

What I learned

  1. Get a flash that works
  2. When attaching your flash to ANYTHING, make sure you tighten it, otherwise, it will fall. And break. That’s probably why my Canon flash is a piece of garbage.
  3. It’s probably better to practice on something that doesn’t move as much as a three-year-old.

Hopefully, my next article might be a bit more helpful.

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