Flash photography tips for beginners

Basic tips to improve your flash photos

The awesome Sigma flash
Are you disappointed with your flash photographs? Do you need some basic flash photography tips to help you get the most from your flash photography? Well, you have come to the right place. If you go all guns blazing in to flash photography you will be disappointed with your results period. With a “gun ho” approach your images will be inconsistent and you are likely to be plagued with over/under exposed backgrounds, over/under exposed subjects, hot spots, shadows and red eye.
Flash photography isn’t easy however, provided you gain some basic theory it is not impossible. With specific equipment, a little theoretical knowledge and a lot of practice you will soon be on your way to capturing stunning flash photographs that will impress your family, friends and peers.
So, if you want to improve your flash photographs please check out the rest of this page as it focuses on the basic flash photography tips for beginners that will help you improve your flash photography and capture the types of flash photos you want to get.

Image is the awesome Sigma EF-610 DG

Flash photography tips - Ignore the camera's built in flash

Using the pop up flash is a waste of time

If you want to improve your flash photographs the first thing you have to do is ditch your camera’s built in pop up flash, as it is next to useless. The light emitted from a pop up flash is weak, you can’t control the intensity (i.e. increase or decrease it) and you can’t control the direction of the light. The pop up flash may get you out of some sticky situations, however photographs using a pop up flash are disappointing and are little more than “snap shots”. I am surprised manufacturer’s insist on constructing cameras with a built in flash, but that is only my opinion. Regardless of this, ignore your camera’s pop up flash and never use it for flash photography.

Flash photography tips - Get an external flash gun

Top branded flash guns aren't always the best

If you don’t use the pop up flash you are going to need to buy an external flash gun for your flash photography. External flash guns are powerful, you have the opportunity to increase/decrease the intensity of the light as necessary and you can control the direction of the light (although this requires some accessories). External flash guns offer manual mode, which allows you to adjust the settings so you can capture creative flash photos, as well as an automatic “point and shoot” mode. The automatic mode is useful for situations where there isn’t the time to set the flash exposure manually, such as during a catwalk shoot.

There are plenty of external flash guns on the market so finding a suitable model won’t cause too many problems. If you shoot a Canon or a Nikon camera many photographers argue the respective branded flash guns are the best buy, however I have to say that I disagree.

Don’t get me wrong, Canon and Nikon branded flash guns are exceptionally good and will do everything you want them too (and probably more in most instances) however they are expensive and they don’t give you the best bang for your buck.

Sigma EF-610 DG ST Electronic Flash for Canon Digital SLR Cameras
Amazon.com: $135.00

The Sigma EF-610 DG ST is an awesome external flash that is available for Nikon, Canon, Sigma, Pentax and Sony digital slr cameras. With a guide number of 61m (200ft) at ISO 100 this is one powerful flash that will be ideal for almost any situation you come across. In fact, if this flash isn’t powerful enough there isn’t an external hot shoe flash that is, and you will have to resort to a studio strobe instead.

 In the words of Honda “Power is nothing without control” and the Sigma offers the controls to make the most out of the power. The Sigma offers full manual control which allows you to adjust the setting exactly how you want it, which makes it is perfect for capturing creative and professional looking flash photographs. The Sigma is user friendly and intuitive to use, and after a few moments with the user manual you will be up and running with it. Some flash guns are complex but the Sigma EF-610 DG ST is not. The Sigma also offers a fully automatic TTL mode for those situations where you don’t have time to adjust the flash exposure manually.

Like all Sigma products the build quality of the EF-610 DG ST is simply superb and on par with Canon and Nikon branded flash guns. This is a tough and durable flash gun that is built to last and, provided you look after it, you will get many years of trouble free service.

The Sigma EX-610 DG ST is an affordable flash gun that gives a lot of bang for the buck. Compared to the Canon and Nikon branded equivalents, the Sigma is definitely the best buy and a flash gun I highly recommend. I have been using one a few years now and I will never buy a Canon or Nikon branded flash gun again.

Flash photography tips - Never use a naked flash light

A light modifier is essential

The light from a flash gun can be harsh and can cause hot spots and areas of harsh shadows, which is not good. In order to overcome these issues I recommend using some type of light modifier at all times. Light modifiers include things like shoot through umbrellas, soft boxes, shoot through material, hoods, snoots and the like.
A light modifier diffuses the light emitted by the flash, hence softening it and making it less harsh, and more manageable.
Some photographers argue that bouncing the flash light off a ceiling, reflector or nearby wall is good enough to soften the light, however I still prefer to use a specific light modifier. I was caught out in a situation where the ceiling was too high to bounce the light off and there were no suitable walls near and handy, and ever since that day I always carry around my trusty portable soft box with me.

There are plenty of different types of light modifiers and they don’t cost a fortune either, and in my opinion, a light modifier is essential for flash photography and will improve your flash photos no end.

Flash photography tips - Learn to balance the flash with ambient light

An essential technique that will make your flash photos stand out from the crowd

One of the most important things I learned in flash photography is to balance the ambient light and the flash light. Simply ignoring the ambient light is likely to lead to a correctly exposed subject and an incorrectly exposed background. In the worst case scenarios the photograph will consist of a correctly exposed subject and a black background, which does not make a decent photo.
You have to think of a flash photograph as two exposures merged in to one, i.e. an ambient exposure and a flash exposure. When balancing the two, the first thing to do is to expose for the ambient light by taking a meter reading. Now you have the first meter reading use the same shutter speed or aperture (depending on what is most important for the photo you are trying to capture) and take a flash exposure before adjusting the flash accordingly.
Learning to balance the ambient light and the flash light is a challenge but once you get the hang of it your flash photos will improve no end, believe me. In order to learn how to correctly balance the flash and ambient light I suggest you read a flash photography book (all good ones will explain the technique) and then practice, practice, practice.

Rock Band The Police: Photography Books and Collections

Collectible Photography Books on The Police

Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland of The Police
Popular rock band The Police were known for their distinctive visual style in the late 70s and early 80s. The "three blond heads" of Sting, Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers were everywhere, and they had a look that sold magazines and records around the world (and of course, their music was pretty memorable, too!)
It's only natural, then, that there have been numerous books of photography published about the band - and even several photography books published by one band member himself. While some of these Police photography books are currently out of print, they are worth hunting down if you are a serious fan of the band and want a complete collection.
On this page, I'm only focusing on books that are strictly or primarily photography collections, not other titles which combine photographs with text and facts about the band (that may be the subject of a separate page here eventually.) I'm also concentrating on UK and US-published books, as others can be difficult to get full information about or locate. I'll include my personal opinions on these titles as well, so the causal Police fan can hopefully decide how to prioritize which books they most need or want for their collection. I'll start with some of the most popular and well-known titles and then include some older, lesser-known volumes which you can still sometimes find used for sale, on Amazon and eBay.
Image: One of my own photographs of The Police in concert, August 7 2008.

"The Police" (1983)

1983 photography book by Lynn Goldsmith

Photographer Lynn Goldsmith had a close relationship with The Police from their early years up through their smash success album Synchronicity. She took many of the most memorable photographs of the band we know today, some of which graced the covers of magazines such as Rolling Stone. In 1983, she published this collection of black and white images of the band which captures them in concert, on the road, and in their own homes for one-on-one intimate views.
The Police
Lynn Goldsmith
This collection does have some great photographs, but it is not my favorite Police photographic collection by far. I remember finding it a bit "pretentious" even when I first got a copy back in the 80s, with its literary quotes tagged to the photos (instead of words from or about the band themselves). Some series of photos seem to go on for pages without really revealing anything new or interesting that couldn't have just been captured in one good shot. However, given how inexpensively this collection can be had on eBay these days, it's worth seeking out for any Police fan with a few dollars to spare!

Lynn Goldsmth at work

Terrific archival video of her photographing Sting

For those curious about what happens "behind the scenes", check out this great video showing Lynn Goldsmith at work photographing Sting in Central Park in New York City. Some of these shots can be seen in her first Police photography book listed above.

"The Police: 1978 - 1983"

2007 photography book by Lynn Goldsmith

Just in time for The Police Reunion Tour of 2007-2008, Lynn Goldsmith published a second volume of her photographs of The Police. Unlike the first, this contained both color and black and white photography and features many images fans of the band have never seen before in print. The book is divided into the following six sections:
  1. The Police: NYC-LA-London
  2. Stewart
  3. Andy
  4. Sting
  5. On the road
  6. Montserrat
Short quotes are provided by Sting, Stewart and Andy throughout the book to provide context to some of the images within, and there is also an introduction provided by music journalist Phil Sutcliffe - a long time friend of the band who was actually a key player in the first meeting between Copeland and Sting.
The Police: 1978-1983
Lynn Goldsmith
Amazon.com: $26.99
I prefer this second book of photographs of The Police by Goldsmith for various reasons. First I think it gives a more cohesive view of the band as a whole, whereas the first book seemed more concentrated on each band member individually. It also feels less forcibly "artistic" and relaxed - and yes, some of the photographs of the guys are quite "drool-worthy" which this fan definitely appreciates.

Lynn Goldsmith: Police Photography Books on eBay

Search for copies of both of Lynn's Police books here

The Police as Photographed by Lynn Goldsmith (1983) First Edition
The Police as Photographed by Lynn Goldsmith (1983) First Edition
The Police photographed by Lynn Goldsmith
The Police photographed by Lynn Goldsmith
Hal Leonard The Police 1978-1983 hard cover book by Lynn Goldsmith
Hal Leonard The Police 1978-1983 hard cover book by Lynn Goldsmith
Music Theory & Ear Training
The Police 1978 to1983 by Lynn Goldsmith Sting Photobook Photographs of the Band
The Police 1978 to1983 by Lynn Goldsmith Sting Photobook Photographs of the Band
THE POLICE 1978 - 1983 by Lynn Goldsmith - Photographer BRAND NEW HARDCOVER
THE POLICE 1978 - 1983 by Lynn Goldsmith - Photographer BRAND NEW HARDCOVER

"Throb: Andy Summers" (1983)

Capturing life on the road with The Police

Andy's 1983 photography book provides a unique look at life on the road with the band. The monotonous hotel rooms, the strange sites of Americana, the girls all too willing to spend the night with a famous rock star - and yes, a few shots of his fellow bandmates as well.
Those looking only for photos of Andy, Sting and Stewart will likely be disappointed with this book. But as Andy's first collection of photographic work it's well-worth exploring (and a title I've become increasingly fond of through the years myself.)
Andy Summers
Currently long out of print, you can still often find copies of this book used for sale on Amazon.

"I'll Be Watching You: Inside the Police, 1980-83"

2007 photography book by Andy Summers

This massive 2007 volume by Police guitarist Andy Summers is easily considered a "must have" by most fans of the band - and Andy's work as a photographer. Different from his earlier book, "Throb", this one features many more photographs of The Police at work, at play, and at rest. There are extensive personal notes from Andy throughout, adding to the mood and atmosphere of the work as a whole.
The book was released in two formats: one, a high-priced, limited edition art book which is likely for collectors only, and a lower-priced mass market version. I have the limited edition version (of course) and find it well worth the money as an appreciator of fine photography and a collector. The limited edition books are all numbered and signed by Andy personally, and come in a protective case for secure storage.
I'll Be Watching You
Andy (PHT) Summers
This is the limited edition version, now out of print. But you can check this link on Amazon to see if anyone is reselling a copy.
I'll Be Watching You: Inside the Police, 1980-83
This is the mass-market version of the book, still available.

Andy Summers: "I'll Be Watching You"

Video preview by Taschen

Get a taste for Andy's "I'll Be Watching You" with this animated preview by book publisher, Tashen.

Andy Summers "I'll Be Watching You"

Limited edition and "nice price" editions for sale on eBay

Andy Summers I'll be watching you TACSHEN
Andy Summers I'll be watching you TACSHEN
I'll Be Watching You: Andy Summers signed  book Rare
I'll Be Watching You: Andy Summers signed book Rare
Antiquarian & Collectible
I'll Be Watching You: Andy Summers signed Limited Edition RARE Numbered Edition
I'll Be Watching You: Andy Summers signed Limited Edition RARE Numbered Edition
Antiquarian & Collectible
I'll Be Watching You: Inside the Police 1980-83 by Andy Summers, Photos, Taschen
I'll Be Watching You: Inside the Police 1980-83 by Andy Summers, Photos, Taschen

"Police Confidential" (1986)

A "roadie's view" of the band

This is a very fun and different photography book that really captures the band members in relaxed and casual moments. The photos are all by Danny Quatrochi, who has been Sting's bass tech in the studio and on the road since 1979.
Here you'll find great photos of the band recording Zenyatta Mondatta, Ghost in the Machine, and Synchronicity; on the road and touring; there's also a section when Danny went along with Sting while he was filming his appearance in "Dune".
There are two different versions of this book published in 1986: one is hardcover and one is softcover. Otherwise the contents are exactly the same. In 1987 a UK edition was published with a slightly different cover.
Danny Quatrochi
Another fun feature of this book is that the band members provide their own hand-written "commentary" on many of the shots, what was going on at particular moments or what they were thinking about. This book is definitely one all fans should try to track down, if they haven't already.

Danny Quatrochi on Sting

Talking about his years with the musician and his instruments

In this 2005 interview, Danny talks about how he came to work with the band - and Sting's favorite bass guitar.

"The Police: Photos 1979-1981"

2004 photography book by Didi Zill

Didi Zill is a photographer who worked for the German teen magazine Bravo. He photographed The Police various times in the years 1979-1981 and many of those photos are included in this attractive, hardcover volume published in 2004.
The "Police": Live on Tour, Backstage, Home Sessions, TV Shows (English and German Edition)
Didi Zill
Didi Zill's work is colorful and bright, with some very nice portrait and candid shots of the band throughout. There are photos taken visiting Sting, Stewart and Andy in their homes, which are some of the more interesting shots showcasing their different personalities and styles quite well. Nicest are the shots taken while the band was on Montserrat recording Ghost in the Machine. Less interesting to me are the live concert shots, which are rather grainy and in my opinion don't fully capture the intensity and energy of the band when performing. There are also some photographs taken at a European awards ceremony. Many of these photos may look familiar to fans who have collected old European music magazines for years, but there are definitely some surprises and good shots to be discovered here.

Other Titles to Track Down

More photography books for the avid Police fan

The Police Released
No Author.
This 1980 volume features a large number of photos from 1979, many of which you won't find in other books. There are both UK and US versions available (different covers). The only text inside are a few quotes from the band members.
The Police Chronicles
Philip Kamin
This 1984 volume does contain some text, but the real draw is Philip Kamin's photography from the Synchronicity tour. These are colorful, intense shots many of which you won't find elsewhere.
Accompanying "The Police"
Mick St.Michael
This book was also first published in 1984 (revised in 1986), during the height of the frenzy over the band. Again, there is some text but the primary reason to buy this book is for the ample amount of photographs.
Police Annual 1982
This book was actually published in 1981 and is really a collection for younger fans. The little bit of text inside is pretty simple and basic, but it does feature 48 pages full of colorful band photographs.
John Tobler
There are two editions of this book available: one published in 1981, one published in 1984. It is primarily "visual" in focus for sure, containing lots of photos of the band, reproductions of ticket stubs and concert flyers. It does include a "timeline" of band concert appearances and other important events, although it is not perhaps the most accurate information available (at least not compared to the PoliceWiki!)

For more books about The Police

Check The PoliceWiki for an extensive guide!

The Police onstage at Giants Stadium, August 5 2007.
The Police onstage at Giants Stadium, August 5 2007. Photo by sockii.
These photography books are just a few of the titles out there about the band. For a much more thorough and complete list, including text-focused volumes, check out the Books Category of The PoliceWiki. There you'll find detailed information on publication dates and contents on over 70 different titles published all around the world. Have fun tracking them down on eBay!
The PoliceWiki is a fan-run wiki dedicated to cataloging and recording everything and anything related to The Police, and is an ever-growing and evolving site.