If you are a portrait photographer and have been relegated to natural light, then flash photography is the best way to take your photography to the next level. Now there is nothing wrong with natural light, but have total control over the light is an invaluable skill to learn. So where do you go to learn?
You're already here so make the most of it. You can find a number of great articles on flash photography by some amazing photographers. The best place to start is Flash Photography Basics. This tutorial will set you up with the basic knowledge you need to get started. Improve Photography Plus members also have access to Jim Harmer's Lighting in a Flash tutorial video which is a two hour workshop video that dives a little more into creative uses of flash.
But once you recognize the amazing potential that the world of flash has for your photography, you are going to want more information. Like any aspect of photography, what you can do with flash is limited only by your knowledge, imagination, and creativity. So the best thing you can do to expand those areas is to seek out as much information, examples, and inspiration as possible. Luckily for us, there is no shortage of great websites and blogs out there that explore every aspect of flash photography. From beginner to advanced, from gear specs to creative inspiration, the following blogs have you covered for all kinds of flash photography needs.
This is the gold standard of flash photography blogs. If you take the time to go through the 101 series of posts on this site, you will unequivocally become a better flash photographer. Calling Strobist just a “blog” is probably not fair. It is more of a self-guided course through using flash from beginner to advanced.
The site was created by well-known photographer, David Hobby. The initial rise to popularity of this site was due mostly to his Lighting 101 series of posts. Even today, this series of posts, is a tremendous way for those getting started in flash photography to understand to follow a well worn path to understanding what can be a difficult topic. While the 101 course is not very recent, the topics covered and the fundamental lessons contained therein are timeless. The gear may change but light does not. The series of posts are set up in such a way to allow the reader to move through lessons at their own pace and try experiments with flash to help understand how it works. Even after reading through these posts multiple times, i still find myself going back and finding something new and useful.
Since the Lighting 101 success, Hobby has added Lighting 102. According to him, here “you'll learn to blend and control multiple lights to build a more nuanced and sophisticated look to your photos.” While Lighting 101 was about understanding the gear and the basics of using it, the 102 series of posts is more about controlling that light to make it do what you want. The blog encourages experimentation and hands on practice so that you can not only make the light do what you want, but also understand what you can do and thus fuel your own creativity.
Hobby currently has Lighting 103 underway. According to the site, this course “will explore the intersection of light and color to help you give your photos more nuance, realism and depth.” To give you an example, one of the first lessons focuses on using warming gels even when you don't think you need them. After reading and seeing the results on his blog and then experimenting with some self portraits (I refuse to call it a selfie when there is a multi-light setup involved!), I think I am convinced that almost all my portraits should have some kind of warming gel on the key light. This is just one thing I may never have thought was necessary until I read this blog.
This is an invaluable resource when it comes to flash gear. This is the place to go when you don't want to spend a small fortune on Canon or Nikon flashes but aren't quite sure what brand to choose, what models work together, or when companies like Yongnuo, Godox, etc., release new gear. They even review flash modifiers such as umbrellas and softboxes.
I have found three very helpful ways to use this site. First, check it periodically to see what is new in the world of flash photography. The newest posts are at the top and new product reviews come out very frequently. Even if you are already committed to a flash system, it can be very helpful to see the new models coming out and what features they have. Sometimes a reading about a new feature in a different flash can help you learn more about your flash or can even give you some inspiration to try something new with your gear.
Second, as a Yongnuo user, I periodically go to Flash Havoc and search for Yongnuo to see what new products they have coming out. I love Yongnuo products, but there website, although it has gotten better, is not all that great at explaining which triggers work with which flashes. So if you are only checking the company's website, you may not get all the details. Flash Havoc, however, will give you a list of every trigger and flash that is compatible with the product you are looking at, as well as a fairly detailed review of the features and (sometimes) how to use them.
Third, Flash Havoc has “gear guides.” As of the writing of this article, there are 5 such guides on various types of flashes, such as Cordless TTL Strobes, Manual Radio Triggers, and HSS Strobes. Each guide gives you a brief overview of the type of product along with some recommendations. This can be very helpful for someone who is either new to flash gear or is expanding to another type of gear (from speedlights to strobes, for example). I would anticipate that this section will grow with time and become an even more valuable resource.
A little bit of a tangent here…if you haven't at least given the third party flash options a good look then you are doing yourself (and your wallet) a disservice. In almost all instances, a Yongnuo flash can do everything you would ever need it to do at just a small fraction of the cost of a Nikon or Canon flash. At those prices, you can get two, three, or even four flashes rather than one. If you want to unlock a world of creativity with flash, having more than one is much more important than having a name brand. Luckily, Flash Havoc is the place to go when you need to find which of these third-party brands works best for you.
Joe McNally's blog is a masterclass in creative uses of lighting. McNally is one of the world's most well known and most award-winning photographers. His work spans from photojournalism to portraits to sports to commercial photography and more. Ok, so not every post is about flash photography, but a lot of them are and they are some pretty awesome shots. This blog is essentially a series of “how I got the shot” behind the scenes tutorials from McNally's work. What amazes me every time I check this blog is that no two shots are the same (or even remotely similar). This blog is a great example of what happens when you mix impeccable technical knowledge with boundless creativity.
The most valuable part of this blog is the ability to see how a master photographer plans and sets up a shot. Good flash photography requires some degree of planning ahead of time and McNally makes it clear how important it is to plan out your flash photography shots. McNally frequently uses color gels in his flash photography to completely change the mood and look of a scene. One of my favorite tips that I picked up from reading his blog was the idea of using a very warm gel on a subject and then color correcting the image so that the background turns to blue. This way you can shoot in the middle of the day but make it look like nighttime or make a window look like it is twilight outside as in the example below.
So this and the next one are actually flash product company websites. So if you get past that fact that it is essentially a big advertisement for the company's products, there is a wealth of great content here. Most of the content consists of user created articles about a photo or series of photos they have created using, in this case, the Elinchrom products. But let's face it, you can get some great ideas and and implement them using any brand of modifiers or even some homemade modifiers.
This blog has more of a focus on flash setups using standard modifiers such as softboxes and umbrellas and also tend to show examples of more high end commercial shoots. While these type of high end shoots may not exactly be practical for the hobbyist or small business photographer, many of these shoots are both inspirational and aspirational. In many instances however, I find myself clicking on a thumbnail of what looks like a very high end (read – expensive) shoot and find out that they did it with a couple gelled lights and umbrellas. That is where the real value of these blogs come through. You never know what tiny nuggets of knowledge you will find or what photo will inspire you to create something new.
The Rogue Flash website contains both a blog and a series of videos about how to creatively use its products (including videos featuring some very well known photographers like Lindsay Adler). What I like the most about this blog is that the Rogue flash modifiers are generally not conventional. As a result, many of the “how I got the shot” tutorials are fairly unique. Now, again, almost all of what you will see can probably be accomplished with some homemade modifiers so never let the fact that you don't own any of the Rogue products stop you from checking out their site for inspiration.
B&H and Adorama YouTube Channels
Ok, so these are neither blogs nor do they focus specifically on flash photography. But you would be remiss to ignore the wealth of free photography knowledge contained within these vlogs.
On the B&H channel, the most valuable videos are likely to be their seminars. For anyone who has never been to B&H in New York City, it is a multi story camera store (and now electronics too) that has tons of hands on gear to test out (ie play with) before you buy and many experts on staff to point you in the right direction. It's basically a theme park for us photography nerds. What many people don't know, is that they get well known photographers in on occasion to give seminars on specific topics and they put the entire seminar (sometimes 1 to 2 hours) up on YouTube. After doing a quick search on their site, I found at least five seminars of 45 minutes or longer completely devoted to using flash in your photography. This is a great place to find long in-depth and complete seminars on specific topics connected to flash (of basically any other area of photography you are interested in).
Adorama's channel is a little different. They mostly focus on short videos that are more specific and feature one of their “on staff” photographers. Incidentally, one of those that frequently contributes to the channel is the aforementioned Joe Mcnally. So if you didn't get enough of his expertise on his blog, here is your chance to get more. Adorama is a great vlog to check every day and consume small bites of information.
Tell Me About More…
When it comes to great photography blogs, I can never find enough. So if you know about a great blog that features flash photography, leave a comment to share it with the rest of us.