Why Your Photographer Must Know How to Use Flash



Plenty of beautiful images have been taken with natural, or ambient, light, but when you are a professional photographer you have to be able to guarantee you can get beautiful images for clients regardless of the ambient lighting conditions. This is where flash photography comes in. 

When I got my formal photographic training at Hallmark Institute of Photography my professors Gregory Heisler and David Turner would take us once a week to various locations and teach us location lighting. Photographs for different clients and usages require far different lighting. With flash you can create a wide variety of different looks but with natural light alone you a restrained to just one. 

By using flash I can create beautiful studio quality light outside or inside regardless of what the natural light conditions are like. An example is the above portrait of a doctor in Holyoke, Massachusetts. This was photographed in a dark hallway in a hospital. The natural lighting was very poor. By using flash with a Color Temperature Orange gel I was able add beautiful light to light the doctor while letting the background turn blue to make the subject stand out. If I was limited to natural light I wouldn’t be able to get the blue color in the background nor the soft portrait lighting on the subjects face. 

Boring locations can be turned into beautiful ones when lit properly. The above images are of a church near Midland, Michigan before and after lighting it with flash. 

A technique I regularly use is combining flash and natural light. The above images are examples of this. In all of the above images the natural light is shining on the back of the subject and a flash is lighting the subjects face. If I was using only natural light the subject would either be a silhouette or the the background would be blow out. 

Being able to use flash also makes it so I can create portraits at times of day not possible for natural light only photographers. For example these portraits of Jerry and Emily where created long after sunset in downtown Clare. 

Wedding receptions are notoriously dark. To get great photos of the dancers flash is required. By using flash combined with a slow shutter speed in rear curtain sync mode I can get the main subject sharp while blurring the other dancers to show motion. Without flash this entire image would be blurry.

Lastly being able to use flash with a light weight portable background makes it so I can create studio portraits on a black or white background in almost any location. Instead of having to come to me to a studio session I can bring my studio to you! For large groups I can photograph each person individual and later photoshop them together. 

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Meet My Second Shooter Nikki Robinson


I’m happy to announce that Nikki Robinson will now be second shooting weddings with me! She will also be available to help on portrait and commercial shoots which require a bigger production. Her bio is a as follows.

“I grew up near Clare, Michigan and went to Clare High School where I met Ryan. After high school I decided to take my interest in photography more seriously, so I started doing freelance assisting and second shooting for Ryan Watkins Photography. On shoots requiring a bigger production Ryan will hire me as his first assistant. Also Ryan will have me second shoot weddings with him as well. While Ryan gets the main images I will shoot candids from different angles giving wedding clients even more coverage during their wedding day. I also help Ryan getting lighting and group shots set up on the wedding day as well. When I’m not assisting Ryan I enjoy shooting my own nature photography.”

To have Nikki help second shoot your wedding it is a $250 charge in addition to the standard $1000 creation fee. 

Nikki’s photography can be viewed on instagram.

Sean and Melissa Wedding – Greenville, Mi

(images by Ryan Watkins and Nikki Robinson)


Location Recommendations: Dow Gardens, Midland, Michigan


This is the first of a series of blog posts showcasing the various locations I recommend for portrait sessions around Michigan. 

One of my favorite, and most requested, locations for portrait sessions is Dow Gardens in Midland, Michigan. This is an amazing location for seniors, families, and is even a great wedding venue as well. It is also open year around but most clients prefer session in the summer and fall. Annual admission passes to Dow Gardens are $10.00 per person. Daily admission is only $5.00 for adults. Kids 6-17 and students with an i.d. are $1.00. These can be purchased the day of the shoot prior to the session. 

Dow Gardens gets a lot of traffic at various times during the year. Because of this during our pre-session consultation we can research what events are taking place at Dow Gardens before hand to make sure we plan a time when it won’t be overrun by wedding attendants nor high schoolers prior to prom. 

The address for Dow Gardens is 1809 Eastman Ave, Midland, MI 48640 and hours are as follows: 

January 1 – April 14 – 9:00am – 4:15pm

April 15 – Labor Day – 9:00am – 8:30pm

Labor Day – October 31- 9:00am – 6:30pm

November 1 – December 31 – 9:00am – 4:15pm

Dow Gardens is not open on Thanksgiving, Christmas, nor New Years day. 

I recommend starting sessions at 6pm and shooting for about an hour if the session is during the summer or fall. This leaves time for sunset or night shots to be taken at a different location.

Below are some of my favorite images taken at Dow Gardens over the years.