Night Photography With a Single Flash: Step by Step Guide

Imagine that you need to photograph a large dark space, like a cave, or a church, but you only have a single flash. Is it even possible?

Quite some time ago I saw in a photography magazine photo of a big beautiful cave, perfectly lit, all the beautiful stalactites perfectly visible, and I thought to myself – there is no way photographer could bring powerful studio lighting equipment down there!

Fortunately there was a brief description to this photo – photographer put his camera on tripod and set it to long exposure, then during the exposure time he ran around the cave with small strobe flash and flashed all the areas of the cave. “Simple and Genious” I thought to myself back then.

Genious? Sure. Simple? Well, not really.

Recently I decided to photograph the front of my sister’s house decorated with shiny Christmas lights. Yes they still haven’t took them off, because my three year old nephew likes to turn them on every night before he goes to sleep :).

In order for Christmas lights to be visible, I had to do that after dark, and I only had one flash (not that it matters but it was Canon 430 EX). So I decided to try the technique described above, and it turned out not as simple as I first thought it would.

I’d like to share with you the tips that I learned from this experience, hoping they will make it easier for you should you decide to use this technique. I will do this in the form of step-by-step instructions how to perform this kind of shoot.

Here we go:
1. Set your camera on a tripod and compose your shot.
2. Choose the desired f-stop (here your guide should be only your artistic intentions, and not exposure considerations).
3. Focus your camera where you need to, then switch to manual focus. The reason for switching to manual focus is that in the dark it is hard for automatic focus to work, so each time you’ll press the shutter it may take a long time for camera to focus if at all.
4. Look at the scene and decide which areas need to be lit and which don’t.
5. Set your flash power to about 1/8th of its max power.
6. Press the shutter, and run around the scene with a flash in your hand flashing all the areas that need light. Flash ONCE each area.
7. Take a look at the result, and go over all the areas that needed to be lit. If they are too dark, next time you’ll flash them twice, or increase the flash power. Using low flash power and flashing several times the same area gives you more versatility in case you need different areas to be lit diferently.
8. Repeat the steps 6 and 7 until you are satisfied with the result.

In addition to this process you also need to have in mind the following:

  • When flashing hold the flash pointed outwards from your body, and as far from you as possible so that no light will spill on you (otherwise “ghosts” of you will be visible in the image).
  • Always point the flash away from the camera, so that no direct light from the flash will hit the lens (otherwise you’ll see bright points of light all across the image).
  • Remember that the longer the exposure time, the more noise you’ll have in the photo. Try to complete the shot as quickly as possible, unless you want the noise for artistic purposes.

Here are a few examples of the house that I photographed:

Night Photography With a Single Flash

In the photo above, you can see that I deliberately flashed into the lens a couple of times to create lights in the tree. This is also a good example of what you’ll see in your image if you do it by chance.

And here is another example, this time without the lights, and with better lit right side.

Night Photography With a Single Flash

Feel free to ask questions and share your experiences in the comment section below.

Till the next time, take care!


Seeing in Black and White

In one of my previous articles I wrote about shooting with intention for B&W (tip number 6), and not merely looking at your photos and trying to convert them to B&W to see if that looks good. Now I would like to add the concept “seeing in black and white”. It comes to you when you shoot a lot of b&w images – you then gain the ability to look at your composition and in your mind see how it would look in b&w. Sometimes, the weather is such that you don’t need this ability – the colors are simply black (dark gray) and white (light gray), but on other occasions the sky may be blue with white clouds and everything around you so colorful that imagining how it would look in b&w would be difficult. This is when the “seeing in black and white” skill comes handy.

Click on the photo to enlarge.

Sometimes the scene itself calls for b&w, as it was with this garden statue. This woman was standing in this garden for a long time and her skin turned from pearl white to muddy gray, the same happened to the color of the fence, and in any case the emphasis here is not on the color.

Click on the photo to enlarge.

Black and white in photography often helps to convey mood, and emphasize shapes and textures.

Click on the photo to enlarge.

Here is another example of emphasizing shapes by shooting in black ans white.

Click on the photo to enlarge.

Did I mention mood already? I just love it when the sky looks like it is going to rain any minute, and light is dim. These minutes before the rain are great for capturing photos such as this one. I wish there would be a bird sitting on the hanger at the foreground though…

Click on the photo to enlarge.

I hope you liked the photographs, and I’ll see you next time!

As always your comments, thoughts, and experiences are highly appreciated.


Hipstamatic – My Preferred iPhone Camera App

I should have written this post a long time ago, as I’ve been using Hipstamatic ever since I got my iPhone. First of all I must say that I am not affiliated with the creators of this app in any way, I simply love this app!

Wine Glass
So what is it? Simply put “Hipstamatic” is an alternative app to iPhone’s native camera application. It is very different though. This app attempts to emulate the ancient plastic film cameras in a very realistic way. Its creators put a lot of thought in the design and functionality of this app, and they keep improving it. Since this app emulates film camera, it has a virtual film loaded into it, and the great thing about it is that you can change this film. For example they have different types of B&W films. But it is not all – you can also swap virtual lenses on the Hipstamatic camera, each lens creating a different effect in the resulting photograph, and you also can swap flashes!

Coca Cola Bottles

Even though all these features are virtual, their effect on the final photograph is very real, and I find it very interesting. There are many combinations of flash/lens/film that you can use to achieve the look that you want.
Candle Light
Currently you can purchase this app from the Apple Store for $1.99 ($2.49 in Australia), and it comes with basic set of lenses and films. Then you can purchase additional “Hipstapacks” (packages of lens+film) from inside the application.

Evil Light

Though I found a few combinations of lenses and films that I particularly like, and have been using them a lot for my daily photo section, I still have tons of fun playing with different combinations creating different new looks for my photos.


If photography is your hobby, passion, or you just like playing with your iPhone, I highly recommend this app. In my opinion it worth every penny.

Till the next time, take care!


Using Flash When Shooting Sunsets

You might think I’m going a little bit crazy here, but hey, don’t make any rushed judgments!

Yes, flash won’t help you to light the landscape but it can help you make your sunset photos a little bit different. Usually when you see sunset photos, the foreground elements of composition are silhouettes due to the high contrast between the backlight from the setting sun and the darkness of the foreground. Sometimes these silhouettes of objects or people look good in the photo, but sometimes adding a little foreground light can improve the final image.

In the following example you can see pretty much the same composition taken with (on the right) and without (on the left) the flash.

Sunset_2 Sunset_3

Click on the photo to enlarge.

While the silhouette in the left photo looks nice, using a little bit of light to show the cool red hair of the standing person adds a nice touch to the photograph. It also reveals a bit more detail in the foreground, though I’m not sure if it is a good thing in this case.

In the photo below I also used flash to light the foreground, and show the beautiful color and texture of the wood. Without flash this photo would have been too dark and much less interesting. Another way of achieving this result would be shooting several frames with different exposures and later combining them into an HDR image, but it would take much more time and possibly look less realistic.


Click on the photo to enlarge.

These are only a few examples of endless possibilities which open up when you start using flash in many situations where it is not normally used, not only during sunset. For example you can use flash when shooting in harsh daylight in order to soften the hard shadows that daylight produces.

Hopefully this post inspired you and gave you a starting point for your own creative ideas when and where to use that flash that has been lying in your photo bag for too long 🙂

If you have any original ideas or examples of unusual use of flash, please share them in the comments.



The Power of Pseudo HDR with Photomatix

If you are new to the whole HDR concept I suggest you first read my posts titled HDR Introduction and Pseudo HDR

Anyone who heard about Photomatix, knows that it creates HDR images. But in addition to a usual HDRs combined from several exposures, you can also create a nice pseudo HDR images – in short an “HDR looking” image made from a single RAW file.

In order to do that you open just that one RAW file in Photomatix, and it “understands” that you want to create a pseudo HDR. Then you use the great tone mapping tools that Photomatix offers and tweak your final result. In my next post I will go into more detail of how exactly to work with Photomatix, but here I just want show a little of what’s possible.

I would like to illustrate this by presenting the before and after versions of an old car photograph. As you can see the change is quite drastic, and it shows how much information is really hidden inside that RAW file.

Old Car Old Car Pseudo HDR

Photographs by Greg Brave. Click on the photo to enlarge.

Somehow in my mind an “exaggerated” HDR images, the ones with slightly unreal look, are always associated with old cars and industrial scenes, so in order for this post to be complete I am adding here another pseudo HDR image (yes, that one is also made from a single RAW file), containing industrial buildings.

Industrial Landscape

Photograph by Greg Brave. Click on the photo to enlarge.

One of the advantages of pseudo HDR is that you don’t always have to use tripod to make it. What I mean is that in order to create ordinary HDR image you’d have to take multiple exposures and use tripod to stabilize your camera so that all your exposures would be framed exactly the same. This is not a problem when you are using only one raw file.

So if you have in your photo collection some single RAW photos that don’t look too interesting, you may want to use Photomatix to create a pseudo HDR from them and see what happens. The result might surprise you!

Till the next time, take care!