Exposed! :: Photo Flash Ideas ::

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A student recently sent out a mayday distress signal after a photo event left her perplexed. Flash photography can be a scary thing. Like the student, many people develop Flash Phobia - an overwhelming fear of flash photography. It doesn't have to be that scary!

In this edition of Exposed! we look at tips for using flash effectively.

Many new photographers deal with flash by not using it: "I am an available light photographer!" Others master flash and choose to use it only when absolutely needed. And others LOVE flash using it all the time.

Below are some different ways to use flash masterfully in your work.

Fill Flash

This is a very common use of flash. On bright days harsh shadows can invade your portraits creating blackness where there should be light. Popping an appropriate amount of light to soften the shadow can create depth in a portrait.

How?! Many modern cameras will communicate with brand-dedicated flashes (ie flash/camera combinations designed to work with each other.) Set your flash to TTL, find an appropriate exposure for your scene and presto, you will have reasonable fill flash - you can fine tune the flash output with some flash exposure compensation - look for a '+-' symbol on your flash menu.

Fill Flash
Using fill flash allowed me to capture this executive portrait in full sun with the plane in an appropriate place while reducing the harsh shadow on the face.

Flash with motion

While shooting an event you may want to show some fun motion of the celebration or the background action. Dancing at a wedding, for example, lends it self to some slow shutter speeds and flash.

How?! Set your flash to TTL and rear curtain sync. Then find the correct exposure for the room using a slow shutter speed like 1/8 or 1/15 of a second. You will get lots of blur in the moving subjects but the flash will fire just before the shutter closes - freezing the action. A tripod can help keep the background somewhat steady, if desired.

Flash with some motion.
Using flash and a long exposure allow some background detail to register while also showing some sense of motion - notice the hints of motion blur around the bride and groom and background.

Total Flash

Sometimes, in a studio, people use flash as their sole light source. Overpowering the available light with enough studio strobes you can create any lighting you want.

How?! The opportunities are endless. Camera mounted flashes or studio strobes can be manipulated in many, many ways.

Flash with some motion.
Studio flash units supplied all the light for this simple shot, except for the Christmas tree lights - they burned into the sensor for 1/30th of a second. Notice the two flashes reflected in each of Santa's eyes.

Overpowering Flash

There are times, at events, where I want to isolate a person from the background to create a portrait without any distractions.

How?! This is fairly simple. Set your camera to an exposure level that will produce a completely black, underexposed photo if no flash is used. That's right! Now introduce your flash via TTL. Make sure any background is far away so that your flash only reaches your subject. Easy!

Flash Only
Flash can be used to overpower ambient or available light to isolate the subject from the background, above. This shot of the Gala event's MC was shot to make him stand out prominently as he gave his speech. The blue dots are from very bright spotlights on the high ballroom ceiling, far, far away.


Get out your camera manuals or take a photography course that covers flash.

Pro Perspective

Years ago I suffered from Flash Phobia. Yes, it's true. I diligently sat down with my equipment, camera manuals and notebook (before digital cameras existed) and bribed someone to let me photograph them as they read a book comfortably ignoring my practice flashes. I experimented and learned the ways of my equipment. As I shot more I developed more confidence and opportunities to make people look good.

Final Frame

My student got rescued from Flash Phobia and, with practice, is learning to master the world of flash photography.
Take photos. Have fun.