Flash For Beginners – Why You Eventually Really Do Need To Use Flash

FlashVarious polls that I’ve done indicate that roughly half of real estate photographers use small flashes in their shoots. I feel particularly qualified to talk about how people try to avoid using flash because even though I purchased my first flash (an SB-26) for real estate photography work in about 1995 I managed to avoid learning how to use it effectively until early 2008 when I met Scott Hargis at a workshop we did together in Seattle.

Everything I know about flash I learned from Scott. I was so impressed with Scott’s system for Lighting Interiors with small flashes that I convinced him to write it down. That eventually became his Lighting Interiors e-book and later evolved into his Lighting For Real Estate Photography Video Series. And now as I’m going over the upcoming second edition word by word in the processing editing I’m appreciating the power, elegance and importance of Scott’s approach to lighting even more! It’s not accidental that the little post that Scott and I put together back in July of 2007 has become one of the most read posts on this blog. This post distills Scott’s system down into 890 words. This is fundamental information and eventually if you want to do the highest quality work possible in interiors photography you need to use some or all of Scott’s system.

What about the other half of real estate photographers who aren’t using Scott’s system? They are shooting brackets and processing them with Exposure Fusion or HDR tone mapping software. However, the polls I’ve none in the past indicate that even the majority of real estate photographer shooting brackets also use at least one small flash as the shoot brackets. Why? Because it helps control some of the wacky side effects of processing brackets that only use ambient light. For example, one benefit of using a flash when shooting brackets is that the flash will make white woodwork looks white and crisp and other colors more accurate.

I’ve come to realize that most real estate photographers lighting technique evolves over time. Many start using no flash, shooting brackets because it seems like a short cut. Learning Scott’s system has a learning curve to climb. There’s more stuff you got to carry. People seem to have a natural fear of flash. I know, for several years, I would only shoot our listings at twilight just so I didn’t have to use flash! One listing client was having a dinner party that I had to work around as I was shooting their home. Lucky for me they were good sports about me shooting during their dinner party! As you become more aware of the results the different techniques  you will be naturally motivated to want your images to look more like Scott’s.

There are some fundamental techniques that will get you started moving towards using small flash. You can do all of these while still shooting brackets:

  1. Learn to use manual flash: It’s tempting to think oh, “I’ll just use Nikon CLS or Canon ETTL” (auto exposure) and the camera will just do everything automatically for me. Nope! Been, there, done that. It works in some simple situations but falls apart in more complex situations when you need it the most. People think because auto flash works for a wedding or studio situation it will also work for interiors.
  2. Get your flash off your camera: I know, you are looking for speed, but if you put the flash on a light stand and trigger it with a radio trigger (YG560-III and RF602/603 are a perfect choice for this) you can still move pretty fast.
  3. Learn to bounce the off-camera flash off a wall or ceiling wall joint: This creates a big soft lights that reduce or eliminate shadows.
  4. As you become more comfortable with this technique add optically triggered flashes: That is the light from the YG560-III will trigger any number of other YG560-IIIs, YG560-IIs or SB-80Dxs at the same instant.

So using a single off-camera flash to shoot brackets is a great way to ease into becoming more comfortable with flash. Try it, I think you are going to like it!

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