Your Next Steps with Flash

An external flash is a lot more versatile than your camera’s built-in flash unit, which translates into extra creative control. Let’s see what you can do with yours.

Flash is a great way to get creative with the light you use in your photography, but you can only do so much with the small built-in flash that comes with your camera. A hot shoe flash – like the Profoto A1X – is a great investment for almost any photographer, as it can be useful in so many situations and in almost every genre.

Learn photography with Fujifilm, Your Next Steps with Flash

Whether you use it attached to your camera or positioned elsewhere to simulate daylight coming from another angle, the creative possibilities are almost limitless. Here are a few ways you can transform your picture making with an external add-on flash.

More Light, More Range

Even if you never do anything more adventurous with your new flash than put it in your camera’s hot shoe and use it just like your built-in flash, you’ll still notice a difference thanks to the extra power available to you.

Flash power used to be measured using a guide number, but is now more commonly quoted in watt-seconds (Ws). The more watt-seconds a unit has, the more powerful it is. An external flash will typically have four or five times more power than that available on a built-in flash. This extra power lets you illuminate larger areas and subjects that are further away, as well as use smaller apertures and lower ISO settings.

  • Without bounce flash
  • Learn photography with Fujifilm, Your Next Steps with Flash With bounce flash

Bouncing Flash

Part of the reason the light from your camera’s built-in flash can look a bit basic is because it comes from the same direction that you’re photographing from. Plus, the small physical size of built-in flashes means the light they produce is ‘hard’, creating harsh shadows on the faces of the subjects you’re framing. There are a number of ways to get around this issue. You could move the flash unit off the camera and trigger it using a cord or – on some models – wirelessly. But an easier solution is to bounce the flash off a nearby ceiling or wall.

Some external flashes have bounce flash heads that tilt upwards and rotate side to side so that the flash can be directed on to the ceiling, which will then bounce it down on to your subject from above, or on to a wall, which will illuminate your subject from the side. And because you are then effectively using the whole wall as a light source, the light is much softer in nature and will produce much more flattering shadows on your subject’s face.

It’s important to add that the bounced flash light will take on the color of the wall or ceiling it is being bounced off. So, if you’re going to bounce flash, we’d suggest you do it where the wall is a light, neutral color, not a deep red, blue, or green!

FP Mode (High Speed Sync)

The fastest shutter speed that can be used with flash, without seeing strange dark bars in your images, is known as the sync speed. It’s caused by a limitation of how quickly your camera’s shutter curtains can open and shut to let light on to the sensor. At shutter speeds faster than the sync speed, the second curtain starts to close before the first one has fully opened, effectively forming a slit that moves over the sensor’s surface. The brief burst of light from an electronic flash is not long enough to cover this time, and so only part of the scene is illuminated.

This can be a problem when you’re trying to use large apertures to create shallow depth-of-field, as this will quickly push the shutter speed up beyond the 1/125 sec sync speed of your camera. But an external flash can provide a solution.

Learn photography with Fujifilm, Your Next Steps with Flash

Compatible flashes feature FP mode (also known as high speed sync or HSS), which solves the sync speed problem by pulsing the light as the curtains make their journey across the sensor’s surface.

With FP mode, you can use any shutter speed right up to 1/8000 sec (depending on your camera model), which is great for creating with shallow depth-of-field. But if you want to use automatic or semiautomatic exposure modes, it’s really important to make sure FP mode is switched on both on the flash and your camera. Refer to your flash unit’s manual to check how to switch the mode on. To activate it on your camera:

  • Attach and switch on an external flash unit.
  • Navigate to the FLASH SETTING menu and select FLASH FUNCTION SETTING.
  • In the window that opens, make sure FP is chosen next to SYNC.

FP mode can also be used to darken down a bright, ambient-lit background, with the flash and camera on FP mode, dial in -2 on your camera’s exposure compensation dial, then photograph as normal. The background will be darker, but the subject will be correctly illuminated by the flash. Just bear in mind that this technique only works with subjects that are close to the camera – typically within two or three meters.

Learn photography with Fujifilm, Your Next Steps with Flash

Better Focusing in the Dark

Some external flash units have a focusing illuminator on the front, which helps with focusing in low-light conditions. This takes over from the focus illuminator lamp on the front of your camera, coming on when it’s needed to help your camera nail sharp focus.

To make sure it works:

  • Press MENU OK and navigate to the AF/MF SETTING menu.
  • Scroll down to AF ILLUMINATOR and change this setting to ON.
  • Learn photography with Fujifilm, Your Next Steps with Flash
  • Learn photography with Fujifilm, Your Next Steps with Flash

Now, when conditions get dark, your flash will project a light on to your subject that makes it easier for the camera to focus. Note: some third-party flash units may have the AF illuminator turned off by default. Follow the unit’s instruction manual to see how to switch it on, which is typically done via a custom function.

Your Next Steps

  • CHALLENGE If you’ve just bought an external flash, or you’re thinking of getting one, get out there and make some pictures with it using the tips above, and show us what it can do. Post your favorite image to social media with the hashtags #MyFujifilmLegacy and #flash. You can also submit your work here for a chance to be featured on our social media channels