Multiple-Flash Photography Tips That Work

How to use multiple flash units to take better photos

If you are ready to take your flash photography to the next level after using a high-end flash with your advanced camera, try using multiple high-end flashes. By changing the angles of the flash units in relation to the subject, you can change the look of your photographs significantly.

Multiple flash photography

 Peter Dazeley / Getty Images

Using more than one flash works by:

  • Adding more light to the scene. Naturally, two flashes provide much stronger light than a single flash. If you're using two flashes side by side, however, try to keep them at least 6 inches apart; this way, you don't end up with too much additional light concentrated in one area of the photo, which causes glare in your image. Multiple flashes typically are better used when they're located far away from each other.
  • Lighting objects on different planes. If you need to shoot an indoor scene where objects in the background and the subject in the foreground both must be illuminated, two flash units work well. For example, the on-camera flash will illuminate the subject, while a second flash can be fired remotely to illuminate the background. It can take a bit of trial and error to ensure that the light from the two flash units reaches the locations you want in the scene, but the results are worth it.
  • Minimizing harsh light. You can use a second or third flash to minimize the harsh light from a primary, on-camera flash—especially if the subject is against a wall where the flash creates a strong shadow. By placing additional flash units to the right and left of the subject, the extra light can remove the effects of the shadow. Although it may seem like a contradiction to say that adding more light from additional flash units can reduce the impact of the total light from the flashes, this method of setting up multiple-flash photographs works well.

Getting the Best Results From Multiple Flash Units

Keep these tips in mind when you're jumping into multiple-flash photography:

  • Slower is better. To achieve more realistic colors in your multiple-flash photo, try reducing the shutter speed. With slower shutter speed, natural colors are brighter and more noticeable. At the same time, using multiple flash units provides enough light to allow the camera to pick up the natural colors, versus using a single flash in a low-light scene.
  • Practice makes perfect. When you are initially learning how to use multiple flashes, take a lot of shots, using the flash units at a variety of angles and positions. This gives you the best chance of taking a photo with exactly the lighting conditions you want. Slightly changing the positioning of your flash units can change the look of your image in a big way, so don't be afraid to experiment a bit. If you can to test the flash configuration in the location where you plan to use the multiple flashes before you have to shoot the scene, you'll have better results.
  • Go vertical to remove shadows. One effective technique for removing shadows from the face is to use a second flash about 1 foot above the on-camera flash. This technique also can help diffuse the shadow behind the subject. 
  • Add some color to the scene. Finally, an interesting technique for using a second or third flash is to pair the flash with a colored gel filter to simulate a specific type of light. For example, using a red gel filter with a flash in a fireplace, you can simulate a fire in the background of your photo. As with most photography techniques, using gels properly requires some trial and error to achieve the exact look you want.
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