How to use flash to highlight part of your photograph

Following on from my recent posts on the use of off-camera flash for interior and night photography – off camera flash has another useful trick up its sleeve.

Off-camera flash can be used to highlight, or spotlight a particular element or part of your subject. If you keep things absolutely simple and forget about all the fancy – and mostly unnecessary – functions on your flash, then it really gets very easy indeed to create powerful images.

Off-camera flash used to highlight part of a subject

The picture of the open doorway taken from inside the derelict washroom – yes, it’s yet another of those wonderful subjects at La Mola in Menorca – has been taken from inside looking out. The daylight outside is very bright and, naturally, when a light reading is taken of the brightness outside, the dark interior of the washroom must be seriously under-exposed. This would render the wash basins very dark indeed. They were, after all, in deep shadow.

The answer was to use a flash to light the interior – or at least part of it.

The tendency for the inexperienced is to light the whole inside scene by using the flash with the beam spread at its widest angle – especially so when a wide angle lens is used on the camera.

But by aiming the hand-held, off-camera flash carefully, and narrowing the flash beam by using the zoom function on the flash, just one particular area – the wash basins in this case – can be lit.

This now brings a powerful focal point to the composition and adds a dramatic effect to the picture.


  • Camera: Nikon D700
  • Lens: Nikon f/2.8 24-70mm
  • Exposure Mode: Manual
  • Shutter speed: 1/50sec
  • Aperture: f/16
  • ISO 200
  • Self timer: 10secs
  • Tripod: Gitzo Traveller with Gitzo ball head


  • Manual Mode: 1/2 power
  • Zoom angle: 85mm
  • Flash connected to camera by simple 4m sync lead


A light reading was taken of the exterior looking out of the door. f16 was chosen deliberately in order to increase depth of field.

The image was composed, then the camera put on the tripod. A 4m sync lead connected the camera to the flash which was set on Manual mode and ½ power with the flash’s zoom set at 85mm – some flash guns often zoom in even narrower.

The self-timer was set at 10 seconds, easily long enough for me to press the shutter button and move into position with the flash well to one side of the camera.

While waiting for the shutter to fire, the flash was aimed very carefully at the wash basins to get the best results.

Job done – move on to the next.

The flash techniques described in these recent posts are often demonstrated during my Photography Holidays and Photography Courses, both in SW Scotland and Menorca.


Simple flash technique for interior photography

I’ve been playing with the old technique of using flash with slow exposures again – see my recent posts.

This time I used the old trick of setting the self timer and a slow shutter speed to enable me to fire a flash by hand without resorting to the use of infra-red or radio triggering devices  – not so much as an flash sync cable is needed for this one, so you don’t have to bother about hiding cables that might otherwise trail across your picture.

I am fortunate to have special permission to work in some of the buildings generally closed to the public in the old fortifications of La Mola – one of our photographers’ favourite photo locations during on our Photography Holidays in Menorca.

interior photography off-camera flash technique

My photograph inside the derelict La Mola prison, Menorca - no flash was used for this shot

This extraordinary place was once a major army barracks, prison and armoury, and covers many hundreds of acres above the entrance to Mahon Harbour. It is a photographer’s dream come true. The old prison, in particular, offers countless picture opportunities. I find the main hallway with its derelict stairways particularly fascinating

This derelict interior presents some challenges even for an experienced photographer. Take a look at that open door, for instance. It might look as if it has been carefully left ajar in order to spill a nice, even pool of light on the filthy floor – but that’s far from the case. The hinges of that door are rusted solid and it is impossible to budge. So it is vital to time the shoot for either a dull day (not easy in Menorca) or when the door is in the shade. Otherwise, the sunlit creates a pool of light that is far too bright.

interior flash photography

Ths time, an off-camera, hand-held flash was fired down the passageway on the right of the stairs. This has lit a very dark corner and added another point of interest in the overall composition

Another difficulty is the area at the side of the stairs (on the right of the picture). Very little light reaches this area. See the first photograph.

That dark area needs some light and one way of providing it is with a off-camera, hand-held flash.

But how do you provide flash to an area like this without cables or sophisticated triggering devices? You have to bear in mind that when I am travelling I travel light and keep the camera gear as simple as possible. Also bear in mind that I was working entirely alone – there was no one else available to hold the flash and fire it. It’s difficult to find volunteers prepared to spend time in an old prison heaped up with pigeon droppings and with a dodgy roof.


  • Camera: Nikon D700
  • Lens: Nikon f/2.8 24-70mm
  • Exposure Mode: Manual
  • Shutter speed: 2.5secs
  • Aperture: f/16
  • ISO 200
  • Self timer: 20secs
  • Tripod: Gitzo Traveller with Gitzo ball head


  • Nikon flash
  • Manual Mode: ¼ power
  • Zoom angle: 24mm
  • Flash fired by hand

The image was composed and set on a tripod. An light reading was taken of a fairly bright part of the scene – the area above the window on the stairs.

After pressing the shutter button and starting the self-timer (20secs delay), I walked into the shot and concealed myself under the stairs. I had my finger on the flash release button and as soon as I heard the shutter of the camera open, I fired one flash at the wall from my hiding place. I waited until I heard the shutter close before returning to the camera.

Couldn’t be simpler, could it? And you need no fancy lighting gizmos to do it. It is a flash photography technique that can be used in a wide variety of situations. However, this method won’t work in a noisy environment or if you are deaf.

These simple travel photography techniques are typical of the sort of instruction I offer and demonstrated during my Photography Holidays and Photography Courses. In my next post I’ll show you how to use off-camera flash to highlight a particular area or item within your suject.

Jacobs Digital discount codes for camera gear

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Using off-camera flash with available light

In my most recent post I wrote about using off-camera flash for night photograph, and the dramatic effects created when the shutter is left open while several flashes are fired within the composition.

using flash with available lightNow let’s look at using off-camera flash to add an extra dimension to indoor photographs lit almost entirely by available light. In this case, the flash light is used to add shadows, modelling and texture to some areas of the composition, or to fill-in and soften shadows in other parts.

If you overcook this method by using too much flash light and not enough available light, the effect will be harsh, unpleasant shadows from the flash. If you over expose the available light, you will create an insipid, flat image.

Getting the light balance just right needs practice.

In this case I used a flash connected to the camera by a simple 4 metre sync cable. The flash was positioned out of shot, low down and to the right of the camera. I aimed the flash slightly upwards at the cart.

For this demonstration I used the old coach house in La Mola; another of the wonderful locations we often photograph during our Photography Holidays in Menorca.


  • Nikon D700
  • Nikon f/2.8, 24-70mm lens
  • Manual Exposure Mode
  • Shutter Speed 1/6sec
  • Aperture: f/14.0
  • ISO 200


  • Manual Mode – full power
  • Flash Zoom set at 75mm spread


I first took a light reading of a bright part of the subject – around the area in the doorway on the left. I deliberately under-exposed this by half a stop. This meant that the cart and the inside of the cart house would benefit from the light from the flash and not just the available light.

The picture was composed and the camera placed on a firm tripod.

I set the flash zoom at the narrow beam of 75mm to prevent the flash spreading too widely, and aimed the flash to cast a shadow of part of the cart on the ceiling and wall. This was done deliberately to add interest to the white arched ceiling.

I used the flash’s Manual Mode because I wanted to override any tendency the auto or TTL settings might have to cut down the output power of the flash. By setting full power manual I forced the flash to give maximum power.

I set the camera’s White Balance on the Daylight setting because I wanted to emphasize the blue hues of the high temperature available light inside the coach house. As the colour temperature of flash light is normally slightly higher than that of daylight, this has also had the effect of bringing out the blue colour of the cart itself.

Using flash with available light is just one of the technique we often cover during our Photography Holidays in Menorca. The theme of these holidays is Travel Photography – and that, of course, involves every technique from landscape, interiors and street photography. At the end of these Photography Holidays, your camera craft and image awareness will be greatly improved.

How to use off-camera flash at night

It’s not all sunshine and polarizing filters on our photography holidays in Menorca. The photography tuition covers a wide range of subjects and camera technique.

I particularly enjoy demonstrating the use of off-camera flash photography. It’s a simple yet dramatic technique that I was taught as a 15 year old apprentice photographer.
off-camera flash demonstration
In those days, the flash light was provided by a huge flash gun using screw-in flash bulbs the size of a small melon. On a complicated lighting job we might trigger a dozen of these flash bulbs, each having to be replaced after it was fired. All this was done while the camera shutter remained open. Sometimes the bulbs would just explode and shower me with glass splinters.
Things are much simpler (and safer) these days, despite the best efforts of manufacturers like Canon who seem make their flash guns as complicated as possible.
I take real pleasure in showing my students just how simple it can be to create glorious outdoor lighting with a flash gun.
For our night time shot of the fishing boat I used just a camera, a tripod and one Nikon flash gun.
  • No cables
  • No infra-red
  • No radio links
  • No TTL auto settings
How I set up this night flash shot…
  • The picture was composed with the camera on a good firm tripod.
  • Manual Exposure Mode was set on the camera
  • A shutter speed of 15 seconds was set
  • An aperture f/11 was set
  • A 10 second delay was set on the Self-timer
  • ISO 200 was set on the camera
  • ‘Flash’ White Balance was set on the camera
  • Manual Mode was set on the flash
  • ½ power was selected
  • The flash ‘zoom’ was set at 50mm

With the flash gun switched on and ready to go, I pressed the shutter button and stood out of shot to the right where I could watch the Self-timer light winking. As soon as the shutter was open, I fired the first flash at the boat – using the flash release button at the back of the flash gun.
I moved quickly down the right hand side of the boat and fired another flash from out of shot and aiming down the side of the boat towards the camera (backlight).
I moved around the back of the boat and fired another flash from there.
Then I move quickly between the subject and the boat on the left and fired the final flash from over on the left side of the camera.
The shutter closed. The job was done.
  • Wear dark clothes that will not reflect light
  • Do not use Full Power on the flash because it may take too long to re-cycle
  • Use an aperture of around f/8 or f/11
  • Best results are achieved just after dusk when there is still a little light in the sky
  • Don’t stand still while firing the flash
  • Keep moving
  • Experiment

Street Photography and Polarizers in Menorca

Another photography holiday in Menorca has come to a close – and what a great bunch of photographers we had together for the week.

It is always very sad when we have to say farewell to everyone. Anyone who has been on one of these Photography Holidays in Menorca will be aware that we do not give prizes at the end of the week for the Best Photograph or Best set of images.

This is not a competitive week – it is a relaxing week of fun while learning photography technique. So the prestigious PhotoActive Light Monkey Awards are given for more abstract achievements – and not always serious ones.

Our good friend Ande Wick, for instance won a Light Monkey simply because so much happiness and fun surrounds him everywhere he goes. Ande has been with us in Menorca twice now and it is always a joy having him in the group. It has to be said that his chances of winning the award were increased by the remarkable resemblance of the monkey’s hair cut to Ande’s own – erm, ‘rough-and-ready’ style. We are very much looking forward to seeing Ande again in May 2011.

photograph by Philip Dunn

Another Light Monkey went to Margaret McKinney, who was also with us in Menorca for the second year running. In this case it was given because I reckoned that the overall improvement in Margaret’s photography was really very impressive – well done Margaret. Yes, it’s all good fun – and just part of our last evening farewell party accompanied by lots of Cava.

Street Photography is one of the aspects of photography we cover during these Photography Holidays in Menorca and it always delights me just how easily people can relax and start to enjoy what has become a ridiculous taboo in the UK.  Street photography is a delight in Menorca, where people are far more sensible about photographers and do not share the state-sponsored paranoia that has swept Britain.

Kate obviously enjoyed this aspect of the photography teaching. She wrote to me today:

“Thank you again for all your teaching, encouragement and eye-watering laughs… it’s been an amazing week on every level. I couldn’t have hoped to meet such a wonderful group of people in such a perfect setting. Really never thought I’d be able to go up to a complete stranger and take their photo. It may not be the greatest of images, but the little girl attached is the first flying solo candid stranger pic … one of life’s pivotal moments that will be cherished.

Without being daftly soft, this week has been a *huge* turning point, and I really can’t thank you and Norene enough. Have light monkey will travel…”

Thank you Kate – the pleasure was all ours and we look forward to having you with us again.

I went out with my own camera the other day and came up with the shot above of the little girl sat on the church wall in San Lluis. I also photographed the fig tree in the stone wall below. These stone structures are common in Menorca and make great photography subjects. I used a polarizing filter to deepen the blue of the sky.

  • Camera: Nikon D700
  • Lens: Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 ED
  • ISO 200
  • Shutter speed 1/160sec
  • Aperture f/9

If you would like to book a Photography Holiday in Menorca, we have just one place remaining for the September Holiday – don’t miss your chance, BOOK NOW. The date for the first 2010 Holiday will be 13th-20th May. Prices to follow.

Top prize on offer for RSPCA Young Photographer Awards winner

One of the world’s best wildlife photographers has teamed up with the RSPCA to offer the winner of this year’s Young Photographer Awards (YPA10) the prize of a lifetime.

Danny Green, a two-time category winner in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year awards, is offering the overall RSCPA YPA10 winner the chance to join him for a three-day photography break.

Danny will pass on some expert photography tips as well as share his inside knowledge during the annual deer rut in Bradgate Park, in Leicestershire.

Danny will also be joining the judging panel again for the RSPCA YPA10, sponsored by Olympus and Warner Midlands, which has established itself as one of the premier competitions for the best of Britain’s young photographers.

“I am really looking forward to seeing this year’s entries because if the quality of last year’s finalists was anything to go by there are going to be some outstanding photographs in contention,” said Danny.

The overall winner will also get £1,000 worth of Olympus kit of their choice.

The winners of the under 12s and 12-18 categories will meanwhile get to join RSPCA chief photographer Andrew Forsyth on their own exclusive shoot, as well as an Olympus camera each.

RSPCA YPA10 entries

The RSPCA YPA10 is now open for entries on the official website until the closing date of midnight on Monday, 6 September.

Entries can also be submitted in the post, to arrive no later than 5pm on 23 August.

Information and postal entry forms are available from the website, by emailing or writing to YPA/RSPCA Publications, Wilberforce Way, Southwater, West Sussex, RH13 9RS.

The shortlisted photographers will then be invited to HM Tower of London for an exclusive awards ceremony where Matt Baker will announce the winners on 10 December.

Travel Photographer of the Year 2010 opens

The 2010 international Travel Photographer of the Year awards (TPOTY) are now open for entry.

Open to amateur and professional photographers from across the globe, TPOTY 2010 sees new categories, new sponsors and new judges, a great range of photographic and travel prizes, and a special focus on young and emerging talent.

Organisers say the 2010 categories have been designed to challenge entrants’ creativity and to offer something for all levels of photographic experience.

Sponsors and partners including Genesis Imaging and Young Photographers Alliance (YPA), have joined Adobe, Intrepid Travel, LEE Filters, Lexar Media, Photo Iconic, Plastic Sandwich and Wacom in supporting the awards, which last year received entries from over 70 countries.

TOPTY 2010 prizes

The 2010 prize package includes trips to South East Asia, Botswana, India and Nepal with Intrepid Travel, TPOTY cash bursaries, Adobe Photoshop CS5 and Lightroom software, a Wacom Cintiq 12WX interactive pen display and Intuos4 and Bamboo Fun pen tablets, the latest Lexar® Professional CompactFlash® memory cards and card readers, LEE filters, customised leather portfolio books from Plastic Sandwich, fine art Giclée exhibition prints from Genesis Imaging and copies of the latest TPOTY book, Journey Three.

Prizes for new and emerging photographers include Young Photographers Alliance portfolio reviews and places on the YPA mentoring programme, the chance of representation from Axiom Photographic Agency, and Photo Iconic photography tuition and image critiques.

TPOTY 2010 judges

Judges TPOTY 2010 will be judged by a panel of imaging experts from the UK, USA, Germany, Sri Lanka and New Zealand, including travel and wildlife photographer Steve Bloom; Caroline Metcalfe, Director of Photography for Conde Nast Traveller; Sophie Batterbury, Picture Editor of Independent on Sunday and Foto8: Mary Robert, Head of Photography for American International University; Simon Bainbridge, Editor of British Journal of Photography; Andrew James, Editor of Practical Photography; Manfred Zollner, Editor of Fotomagazin (Germany); Debbie Ireland, former head of the AA Photo Library; Erin Moroney, head of Axiom Photographic Agency; Marni Brownlees, Art Buyer for interactive marketing agency Dare Digital; travel photographer and publisher Juliet Coombe; photographer and TV cameraman Jeremy Hoare; landscape and panoramic photographer Nick Meers; wildlife photographer Chris Weston, and TPOTY founder, travel photographer Chris Coe.

TPOTY 2010 awards and categories

Awards and categories TPOTY 2010 features three portfolio categories for amateur and professional photographers aged 19 and over.

The category titles are Encounters, Amazing Places and World in Motion.

In addition to portfolio winners, awards will be given for the best individual images in each of these categories.

The overall winner of TPOTY 2010 – the Travel Photographer of the Year 2010 – will be the entrant who is judged to have submitted the strongest two portfolios.

There are two single image categories – One Shot (theme: Adventures), which is for experienced amateurs and professional photographers, and First Shot (theme: Festival of Colour), which is aimed at adult beginners.

The New Talent award (theme: Sell It!) is for aspiring professional photographers, and the Young Travel Photographer of the Year is divided into two age groups for the first time – 14 and under and 15-18.

Entrants in New Talent and Young TPOTY will also be eligible for the YPA Emerging Talent award. Deadlines and entry fees Print entries are now being accepted for the 2010 awards, and online image submissions can be made from July 1.

Each portfolio category costs £15 per entry, One Shot and First Shot cost £10 to enter, and New Talent £20.

Young TPOTY is free to enter. Entries close on October 9th 2010 and the results will be announced in December.

For more information visit the Travel Photographer of the Year website.

>> If you want to improve your travel photography make sure you sign up to a photography course or photography holiday with former Sunday Times travel photographer Philip Dunn.

Olympus Pen new camera video

Olympus have put together another highly innovative video as part of their campaign to publicise their brand new Olympus Pen E-PL1 camera.

This new ‘stop motion’ clip is designed to show the potential of the brand new Olympus PEN.

After the sucess of their first video, which used hundreds of photo prints to tell the story, Olympus have now used 18/1 billboards in order to take the ‘stop motion’ technique to the next level. Each poster and therefore every frame was photographed individually. Every single shot is said to have been taken with the Olympus PEN.
It’s worth watching just to marvel at the technique
The Olympus E-PL1 Micro FourThirds Digital Camera – Black  complete with the 14-42mm Lens Kit (pictured left is available from The PhotoActive Shop at £499.99

Nikon sponsors Hollyoaks TV soap

Nikon UK has announced a new TV sponsorship deal with daily Channel 4 TV show, Hollyoaks, as part of its wider TV advertising campaign.

The sponsorship of the modern soap supports Nikon’s COOLPIX compact camera range and airs from 3rd May – 30th September 2010.

The COOLPIX sponsorship will be featured on the daily show on Channel 4 and E4, as well as the weekly Saturday omnibus on E4.

The focus of the sponsorship is the Nikon COOLPIX S3000, a 12.0 megapixel stylish, feature packed compact camera that Nikon claims is “affordable and universal in its appeal.”

The sponsorship adverts feature a behind the scenes look at a lively party scene, typical of those featured on Hollyoaks, and a snapshot of a moment that is summarised with the I AM: A PARTY ANIMAL message.

Jeremy Gilbert, group marketing manager at Nikon UK says: “Hollyoaks provides the perfect demographic to which we are able to communicate the strengths of the COOLPIX S3000 camera.

“We are excited to be engaging with this new audience and look forward to seeing how viewers respond to the COOLPIX S3000 as a fun, easy to use, individual camera.”

He added: “The sponsorship is an ideal platform on which to communicate Nikon’s I AM messaging, in that we are able to visually demonstrate the emotional side of photography and how it fits into your lifestyle.”

Set in the city of Chester, Hollyoaks is one of the only long running dramas to attract and sustain a lucrative 16-24 audience, thanks – arguably – to its cast of beautiful people.