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I have been trying to really get the Larry Fink look with flash. I have been using the Vivitar Auto Thyristor 2800-D on camera, but so far the photographs look good but not great. They look flat.

Do I need to get the flash off the camera and master zone focusing?

For settings, I have been using the back of the flash for suggestions. For example for ISO 400, A1 gives you F4 6-40 feet A2 F8 3-20 feet and then it also has M giving you feet and F numbers.

Thoughts, suggestions?

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    What's the Larry Fink look? You mean the BlackRock CEO? – ths Jun 14 '17 at 17:31
  • @ths If you include 'photographer' in the search term you'll find him very easily. There's only one well know photographer named Larry Fink who has been featured with a solo show at the Modern Museum of Art, published several books of photos, and shot Hollywood parties for Vogue magazine. – Michael C Jun 15 '17 at 19:25
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Do I need to get the flash off the camera and master zone focusing?

You just need to get the flash off the camera or learn how to bounce the on camera flash so that the majority of the light striking your subject is not coming from a direction parallel to the lens' optical axis.

Direct, camera mounted flash will always look flat, because there is very little shadow, as seen by the camera, from such light.

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The light of the flash comes from a small surface right above your lens, so it falls equally for everything at the same distance. That is why photos with a flash, any flash, placed on camera look flat.

In order to get depth, light must create shadows that are visible to the camera. With the flash right on the camera, all shadows are behind you subject and hence not visible to the camera.

There are two solutions:

  • Move the flash off camera. This requires a stand or bracket. The bracket is less flexible but it moves with you. The stand offers more flexibility. Which one you use really depends on the situation, how mobile you and your subjects are, location, etc.
  • Reflect the camera off a surface to give the light another direction. This will result in more diffuse light but also less strong since light must travel a longer distance to reach your subject. It is also often the preferred method when taking portraits because very harsh light is emphasizes details which can make skin look less perfect.

Many studio photographers do both together by having an off-camera flash bounce using a reflective umbrella. There are countless variations of this setup.

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... I have been using the Vivitar Auto Thyristor 2800-D on camera, but so far the photographs look good but not great. They look flat.

When you shoot direct on-camera flash (i.e., point the head of the flash straight at your subject), then all the light is coming from the same direction as the camera lens. You're unlikely to have the shadows that give depth cues to the eyes, and the light is hard/harsh, so you do get that deer-in-the-headlights look so well know to P&S flash users.

If you bounce your on-camera flash (i.e., point the head of the flash at a reflective surface to diffuse the light), if you don't flag off the head of the flash with something like the Black Foamie Thing, while the majority of your light was bounced, there is still some light coming directly from the flash head towards your subject. And given the restriction your flash has of a non-swiveling head (I.e., it can only tilt up and down, it can't rotate side-to-side like most speedlights), all your light is still on-axis.

Do I need to get the flash off the camera and master zone focusing?

Zone focusing has nothing to do with changing how the direction or quality of the light from your flash.

But, given that the speedlight you chose doesn't have a head that swivels, you must get it off-camera to get the light off-axis. And getting it off camera makes it far easier to control the quality and direction of the light.

For settings, I have been using the back of the flash for suggestions. For example for ISO 400, A1 gives you F4 6-40 feet A2 F8 3-20 feet and then it also has M giving you feet and F numbers.

This is for direct on-camera flash. Back in film days, you were typically more worried about getting a decent exposure than getting good lighting, because you couldn't see what you were doing and every exposure cost you money. With digital, it's a different proposition.

This is just my opinion, but when you went for a cheapie all-manual $60 flash that's basically designed in the film era (that doesn't swivel and is probably missing 1/8 power setting), you made life a lot harder for yourself than getting a cheap Chinese TTL/HSS-capable flash with a swivel head, or saving $200 and getting a used OEM flash.

Flash can be as transformative to your photography as a lens. Budgeting accordingly might not be foolish.

See also:

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