July 18, 2022


Sony and Minolta SLR Weblog

Better flash photos? Move your flash off the hot shoe

NEX 5n with remote flash unit

Better flash photos? Move your flash off the hot shoe.

If you want to improve your flash photos, you need to move your flash unit away from your camera. This means you will need a remote flash unit and a means to hold and trigger it away from the hot-shoe.

The trouble with the built-in pop-up flash

Why should you go to the trouble and expense of using an external flash when your camera most likely has a perfectly good built-in flash? Most cameras place the built-in  flash unit directly over or just to one side of the lens. Any professional photographer will tell you that is the very worst place for the flash. This article will explain how you can use a remote flash to improve portraits of people, but most of the following will apply to any subject.

Consider the list of problems created by having your flash inline or near the lens. First off, this is where red-eye originates. When you fire the flash  from an area in close proximity to the lens, you increase the probability of  red-eye.  Some cameras offer a red-eye reduction mode and you can usually fix the problem by editing your images with software. Neither of these solutions is ideal. The best fix for red-eye is to move the flash away from the axis of the lens. The further the flash is from the lens, the less chance that people and animals in your photos will  display red-eye.

The second problem with direct, on-camera flash is the harsh shadows it creates behind your subject. If you are outdoors or in a very large open room, you might be able to avoid this problem. If your subject is near a wall or a large upright object, direct flash will cause a shadow to appear just behind their head. The closer they are to the wall, the harsher the shadow will appear. This is annoying for blond subjects, but it is deadly for photos of brunettes. The shadow tends to merge with the dark hair to create a horrendous blob on top of the person’s head. Once again, you can solve this problem with off-camera flash. If the flash unit is held high or to one side, you can cause any shadows to fall outside of the photo area.

Watch those reflections

Another short-coming of direct flash occurs when you are shooting someone with eye glasses. You fire that direct burst of light into the lenses of their glasses, which promptly reflect it right back to your camera. The result is a nice portrait of your subject with white streaks instead of eyes. By moving the flash away from the hotshoe, you can direct the light to avoid reflections.

Direct flash can also cause your subject’s skin to reflect light, causing bright hot spots on their cheeks or forehead. The fix is the same as that for eyeglasses; move the flash.

The deer in the headlights effect

Finally, direct flash may cause a “deer-in-the-headlights” look on your subject’s face. The flash wipes away all the natural shadows from the person’s face. Lighting experts know that side lighting exaggerates texture, while frontal lighting minimizes texture. You might want to tone down the texture in someone’s face somewhat, but you don’t want so much head-on light that eyes, nose, mouth and facial features appear flat.

You can eliminate these problems by simply moving the flash so it is not inline with the lens. You can achieve this with a flash bracket, which mounts a remote flash high and off to one side of the lens. You can also simply hold your camera with your right hand, while directing a remote flash with your left hand. Both of these solutions assume your camera has a PC port or hot-shoe that will allow you to use a sync cord to fire a remote flash.

Sony Alpha remote flash: What you need

The higher-end Sony Alpha models do feature a PC sync port. If your Sony Alpha doesn’t have the PC connection, you can use the FA-CC1AM Off Camera Cable or the Sync Terminal Adapter.

If you have the necessary remote flash and cable, don’t hesitate to start using this technique. Once you see how much better your images look using remote flash, you will never go back to shooting with a built in or hot-shoe mounted flash.

4 thoughts on “Better flash photos? Move your flash off the hot shoe

  1. My A99 does not have a remote flash trigger. However, holding the flash in one hand and using a wireless flash trigger – I then need something to fire the camera. But my hands are full.

    I could go with a wireless shutter release, but how do I fire the flash. Use cables? But then what is the point of wireless? This is very confusing considering the way the camera is assembled for flash photography.

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