Using Off-Camera Flash in Bad Lighting Situations

I’m not going to lie, it took me a long time to pluck up the courage to use off camera flash. It’s a scary thing… very intimidating. However, as a professional photographer, I need to be prepared to shoot in any type of situation. Good lighting, bad lighting, full sun, overcast, even at night! And the only thing you can do in a situation where there’s horrible light (or no light!) is to create your own.

Here are a couple of examples.

At last weekend’s wedding, the ceremony started less than 2 hours before sunset, and the couple didn’t see each other before the ceremony. That left us with just a short time to cover all of the family, wedding party, and couple portraits during daylight. It actually ended up perfectly, though, because I was able to use off-camera flash to create the two following images shortly after the sun went behind the horizon:

And then, last night at an engagement session, the light was completely less than ideal. It was a dreary overcast day, which meant the light was coming from straight above. It’s not very flattering and leaves weird shadows on the face:

So I popped some flash (with my new Westcott RapidBox softbox) from camera right, and suddenly the light is so much better on her face. It’s not the softest light ever because it’s a relatively small modifier (I wouldn’t be able to manage a 7′ octabox by myself), but it’s infinitely better than the natural light image.

A year ago I could barely even think about doing off-camera flash without breaking into hives from panic. I still prefer good quality natural light (and a good backlit image), but knowing how to use flash when needed has really opened up a world of possibilities for me. It’s so much better than just having a flash ON your camera because 1) it is much more flattering to have light coming from the side than straight onto a subject (shadows are a GOOD thing!), and 2) you can move wherever you need to for composition purposes and don’t have to worry about the position of the light because it’s completely separate from you.

So I just wanted to share this post with you to encourage you to be brave and try off-camera flash if you haven’t before. I’m so grateful to Zach and Jody Gray and their creativeLIVE workshop, where they covered lighting hard core and finally made it click in my brain, to help me push my photography forward. If you’re thinking about testing the OCF waters, that is definitely a workshop you’ll want to watch. I also wrote up a little post about wedding reception lighting that outlines all of the gear that I personally use and diagrams how I set up a few different shots. Those can easily be transferable to a portrait session.

I hope you’ve been encouraged just a little bit! Happy Thursday! :)

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