Flash Photography

What is Flash Photography?

There is some times when you are taking a picture that you want to add extra light to your picture; most of you have a flash built into your camera. It sits on top of the camera and the camera will pop it up when it thinks you need it, only if you are using the fully automatic green square.

There are a few problems with this in built flash; It’s very small, and will usually only work for subjects that are about 1 to 3 meters in front of you. You can get a little more range by using a higher number ISO, it will also use less battery power, and be ready to use quicker.

How do I use Flash Photography on my camera?

Most cameras have a button to pop up the flash, and some will have it in a menu. When it is up, the camera will usually do some things that may seem a little odd. Generally the camera will not let you set a shutter speed setting that is faster than 1/180th or 1/250th. The reason for this is very long and very hard to explain, what you need to know, is that outside in daylight the small flash on your camera will do very little.

Because of the pop up flash limitations, external “flash guns” can be bought, which can have up to about 7 times the power, some have the ability to high speed sync which allows you to set a shutter speed which is faster than 1/250th, and turn the flash away from the subject that will allow the flash to do other things.

These external flashes have their own batteries and can recycle to flash again quicker, and they can be taken off the camera and used very differently. Some cameras have the ability to remotely fire the flash using the on board pop up flash or inbuilt wireless, read your manual for more information.

What does Flash Photography do to my pictures?

By using flash it allows you to change the light in your pictures, but it can add seen shadows behind the subject in your pictures. By changing where the flash is you can remove these shadows or use the shadow to give the photo a different look.


In the following examples, I have used the on board pop up flash, and then rotated the camera to show the “portrait shadow” from the flash being to the right. Then I have moved the flash to different spots, using a remote flash trigger. All the images were taken with ETTL flash, which is an acronym for Electronic Thru The Lens, which is an automatic mode of flash which uses a small flash before you take the picture to measure how much flash it needs to use. I will explain where the flash was and how it’s changed the picture, but not how powerful the flash was set, or the pictures settings.

Flash PhotographyBy using the pop up flash on top of the camera you can see the flash shadow behind the subject, the trouble is that a portrait is usually shot in that way, with the camera rotated 90° which will move the shadow.

Flash PhotographyWhen the camera is rotated 90°, the flash is now to the left of the subject and casts a shadow on their right, the shadow is also very distinct and very harsh.

Flash PhotographyThe remaining shots are taken with the external flash, and positioned in different places and using different techniques to get different effects. In this one the flash is above the subject and to the cameras right, the shadow on the wall is strong, and it has also cast a shadow of the subjects left arm on the subjects left leg.

Flash PhotographyBy lowering the flash and moving more in front of the subject you can now see the shadow has been cast upwards and away from the subject, I have also minimised the shadow of the subjects left arm on the subjects leg.

Flash PhotographyThis time I have moved the flash so that it is almost right beside the subject, this is casting a shadow across his chest of his arm, and giving his nose a little shadow as well. It has removed the shadows behind the subject completely.

Flash PhotographyThis shows how moving the flash to the wrong place can cast shadows in the wrong places and can cast shadows over the subjects face.

Flash Photography

I have used a diffuser, in this case a piece of A4 white paper in front of the flash to soften the light, you can just see the subjects shadow behind them, by putting the flash up high it has also lit up the subjects face nice and evenly.

Flash PhotographyStill using the diffuser and putting the flash in front of the subject, you can see that the subject is evenly lit and the shadow is soft from the diffuser.

Flash PhotographyThese last two images I have turned the flash away from the subject and bounced the flash off the ceiling, as you can see it is a little dark, as the ceiling in this room is high, compared to the subjects height, you can adjust this by telling the camera to use more flash. Look in your manual about “flash compensation”

Flash PhotographyIn this last picture I have bounced the flash off a wall next to the subject, in this case it was a white piece of paper, but it could have been a wall or a large white bed sheet. I placed the flash still quite high, there is now no shadows behind the subject and there is nice soft light across the face giving the subject cute cheeks.

Try This

If you have a pop up flash, use a small piece of paper to diffuse the flash, note this will reduce the flash range increase your ISO if you need to, tracing paper will also work, or a small piece of a plastic milk carton. If you have an external flash, try to direct the flash onto a wall or the ceiling next to the subject, this is called bounce flash, the light that bounces onto the subject from the wall will be nice and soft and very even.


What are your thoughts?