Flash! Ah ahhhhh! (vol. 1)

So you put your car in storage for winter, but still want to take fancy pics of it? Then read on! Here are some tips to get started with on-camera flash.

Sony a900; Sony HVL F42AM; Minolta 35mm 1.4 G AF; 1/200 f5.6 IS0 200

There are basically 2 types of flash that you can have on-camera. Here is a breakdown of them.

  • Pop up: built into the camera and compact; does not require extra batteries; are typically fixed at one angle; not very strong; difficult to modify
  • Speed light: can be bulky; require you to drop some $$; stronger than popups; can usually be angled in multiple positions; easy to modify; strength can be manually adjusted; require batteries… which they will fry

With pop ups, your creative options are limited. You can use it as fill and that’s about it. Great for ‘deer in headlights’ shots or creating that ‘my dad took this picture in the 70’s’ look. For cars, you will need to find the optimum distance and situation to get the best results with your particular camera. The first shot below was about 5 feet away from the subjects. The second was at a foot or so out, but there was a hood to use as a pseudo reflector, which softened the light a bit.

Vivitar 450pz; Kodak Tri-x (exp. 2005) @ box speed; HC 110 (b) @ ISO 800

Speed lights are a bit different. They are pretty versatile, even on top of your camera. Many companies make modifiers that will change the way the light hits your subject. Before we get into those shenanigans though, you should get comfortable bouncing that shit. So let’s head to the garage and learn to bounce.

Angle your flash up, to the side, or behind you (basically anywhere except directly pointed at the car), and take a few test shots to work out what settings you want as a baseline. For digital, just review your histogram and adjust. For film, you should use a hand-held light meter. Bouncing is kind of like pool. You need to pay attention to the angles and use a bit of geometry to get the shot you want.

Sony a900; Sony HVL F42AM; Minolta 35mm 1.4 G AF; 1/200 f5.6 IS0 400

🔥Hot tip: with on-camera flash, f-stop controls the amount of light from the flash entering the camera and shutter-speed controls the amount of natural light entering the camera.

The exposure triangle (or rectangle in this case, I guess) will vary depending on the look you want. If you have a large garage, you could potentially use a low ISO, max shutter-speed, large aperture (low f-stop), and strong flash setting to darken out the ambient light (which is your background in this case, likely the garage door or a bunch of shit hung on your wall). If you don’t have a large garage (like me) you’ll be mostly limited to detail shots. The flash will bounce off of all the things, so there isn’t much hope of darkening out the doors/walls in-camera. Not all bad though, as this will provide a little bit of backlighting and soften the light.

For detail shots, first find the framing you want and try angling the flash in different positions to find something that accentuates your focal point in the way you want. If you’re shooting digital, just fire away and check your screen. For film, make your best guess and be sure to take notes on the frame number and position of your flash to review after developing. Be careful with both though because depending on where you angle the flash, the exposure settings may need to be tweaked a bit.

Sony a900; Sony HVL F42AM; Minolta 35mm 1.4 G AF; 1/200 f5.6 IS0 200

Stay tuned for part deux, where we’ll walk through the use of gels, modifiers, and take that flash off of the camera, where it belongs!

Thanks for reading!

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