Isolating a small subject using a flash

There are a lot of ways to focus on a subject. One way is to only light your subject. This is a quick overview on how to do this on a small object like a flower using a flash.

(You can also get similar results using high powered flashlight — see this post and this post.)

So how do you get from here:


To here?


But first a quick overview of your options. With natural lighting you can use aperture to control depth of field to isolate your subject. This is how I like to isolate subjects outdoors.

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But many times subjects are much closer to other objects so are more difficult to isolate and get enough detail in the subject.

Of course, you could put a black background like a black matte board or black velvet behind the flower, but what if this is not an option?

To more isolate your subject, you might try an on-camera flash which gets your a little closer.

Or an external flash which gives you a few creative options.

You can change the angle (and distance) like this:

Which is great if you are trying to soften and more evenly distribute lighting, but in this case, we want to do the opposite, so we have to go off-road!

With an off-camera flash, you can really take advantage of the inverse-square law of lighting. Simply put, this law means the closer the subject is to the lighting source, the less exposure you need (to compensate for the increase in intensity of light) and the less light falls on nearby objects.

This is the technique many portrait photographers use to isolate subjects using just a window or a garage on a sunny day.

Just look at the photo sequence above again. The closer the flower is to the light, the less light falls behind the flower pot.


1) hold the flash just above the flower

2) remove the diffuser to really reduce light distribution

3) play around with flash location

and we get this:


(Like I said earlier, I could isolate it more by moving the branches or putting a black background behind the flower, but I kinda like it with more details.)

So that is how you can quickly, guerrilla-style shoot a pretty flower after dinner in your half-cleaned up kitchen.

Good luck!



There are a few different ways to get a flash to fire off camera. The technique that I used is to use a radio transmitter. Mine are cheap ones that I got off ebay.


These were made for Canon, but work perfectly fine on Fuji. It doesn’t transmit TTL data so you have to use the flash on manual. The small generic flash that I used can go down to 1/128 power which was more than enough power for the photos above at shot at f/8 at ISO200. And it has the advantage over my large Canon 430EX II by being small and light and having an LED lamp for video shooting which worked nicely in this case as a modeling light (but keep in mind it won’t show exactly how the flash will look).

Unfortunately, the flash sync speed on most Fuji X cameras is not very fast (shooting like this with the X-T1’s flip screen is really helpful), but the X100’s have leaf shutters so can sync up to 1/4000 so the technique that I used here could be used outdoors (to overpower the sun and) to isolate flowers.

Another tweak to keep in mind when using an external or detached flash is to set your white balance to flash (or daylight if you are using a Fuji X camera). This will give you more accurate colors. (And don’t forget to change it back if you usually use Auto white balance.)

Yes, I could add more interest in the flower by spraying it with water, but to do the different apertures so close to the flower with my X100T, I was easily brushing the flowers with my hand so I just didn’t do it this time, but the technique does give lovely results which you can see here and here.


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