Before we address the need for off-camera flash, it's vital to understand why investing in any flash – whether it be an on-camera shoe-mount flash or a studio strobe – is worthwhile. While beautiful, natural, soft ambient light is ideal, many times circumstances don't line up with pre-scheduled portrait sessions. With a flash (or multiple flashes) in your kit, you gain the ability to create the ideal light wherever and whenever you need it.
Now let's say you have invested in a shoe-mount flash. However, with the shoe-mount flash mounted to the camera's hot shoe and pointing forward, you find your portraits don't look quite right. There's a good reason for that. Think of it this way – how often do you view the world with a bright, small sized light emanating from your forehead? My guess is... not often (outside of you spelunkers out there).
When you view the world day in and day out, light is usually generated from many different sources, and therefore, it comes from varying directions (but as we established, rarely from your forehead). One way to change the size and direction of your camera mounted flash's output is to swivel the flash head and bounce the light off of a nearby neutral colored wall or ceiling. For flash owners, this is the first and easiest step to improving the look of images taken using [on-camera] flash. But unfortunately, bounce flash is not a panacea. Sometimes there isn't a nearby surface suitable for bouncing your flash, and other times you may want more control over the light than this option permits.
Now let's consider positioning the flash in a location other than the camera's hot shoe. With the flash off-camera, more natural looking portraits can be created compared to portraits utilizing on-camera (especially bare, pointed forward) flash. With a huge array of light modifiers available, each influencing your flash's light quality in a unique way, the possibilities for creative, compelling and professional looking imagery are endless.
In the next installment in this series, we'll take a look at the various types of off-camera flashes and studio strobes.
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