Flash Photography Techniques for Natural-Looking Photos

February 28, 2024
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Getting the hang of using your camera’s flash can turn your photography around. Think of photography as playing with light; your flash is one of the coolest toys in your box. Whether it’s the flash that’s built into your camera or the one you attach, knowing when and how to use it can make a big difference in your photos.

You might believe the flash will brighten dark places or make close-up subjects pop. But it’s so much more than that. With a flash, you can set a certain vibe, bring attention to specific parts of your picture, and even pull off some neat tricks that add a wow factor to your work. Learning to use your camera’s flash well is not just helpful—it’s a blast!

Let’s walk through how you can use your flash to add some pizzazz to your pictures and pull it off like a pro.

How Does a Flash Work?

Have you ever wondered how a camera flash lights up your photos in the blink of an eye? 

Quick, bright bursts of light illuminate the scene, usually in a flash that lasts from 1/200 to 1/1000 of a second. This flash synchronizes with the camera’s shutter to illuminate the scene while capturing the picture entirely.

Flash Photography Tips

To nail photography, you’ve got to be ready to take amazing shots in any situation, no matter the light. That’s why getting to know your way around a flash is key.

We’ve compiled a list of some popular flash photography tricks you might have heard of or tried out. Sure, you can play around with your camera’s built-in flash for a few of these, but if you’re looking to dive deep and get creative, you’ll want to grab an external flash that attaches to your camera.

1. Bounce the Light

First off, remember to point your flash straight at your subject. That’s a quick way to get photos with harsh lighting and unflattering shadows. Instead, aim your flash at a neutral-colored wall, ceiling, or even a reflective card attached to your flash. This trick makes the light source bigger and softer, giving your subject a more flattering glow.

Bonus Tip: Try using a small piece of black foam or another opaque material to block part of the flash. This stops direct light from hitting your subject and helps control the lighting even more.

2. Diffuse Your Flash

For a softer, more appealing light, diffusing your flash is the way to go. Using a diffuser spreads the light, making it gentler on your subject. You can use pop-up flash diffusers, professional speedlight “Tupperware,” or mini softboxes for a portable studio lighting effect.

3. Make Use of Ambient Light

Relying solely on your flash can leave your background in the dark. To avoid this, let in some ambient light. Start by setting your camera to Manual Exposure Mode to expose the background first, which might make your subject appear underexposed. Then, adjust your flash power to light up your subject without washing out the background.

Bonus Tip: Use the rear curtain sync setting for dynamic shots in low light, like at holiday parties. This makes the flash fire just before the shutter closes, capturing both the motion in the scene and a clear, bright subject in the same photo.

4. Use Colored Flash Gels

Adding a splash of color to your photos is easy with flash gels. These gels go over your flash, bathing your subject in colorful light. They’re not just for cool effects; they help balance the flashlight with the ambient light around you. Since room lights and flash typically have different color temperatures, using a gel can make your photos look more natural. 

For example, if you’re shooting in a room with tungsten lighting, setting your camera’s white balance to tungsten and adding an amber (Color Temperature Orange, CTO) gel over your flash can make everything look just right.

Bonus Tip: Try using colored flash diffusers to both soften and color-correct the light from your flash simultaneously.

5. Use TTL Technology

Through-the-lens (TTL) flash mode is a lifesaver in changing light conditions. Whether using iTTL (Nikon) or eTTL (Canon), your flash and camera work together to determine the perfect flash power needed by evaluating the scene’s lighting and the distance to your subject. 

This feature is a must-try, especially when moving quickly between different lighting environments. You can even combine TTL with bouncing your flash for even better results.

Bonus Tip: Lowering the flash compensation can help dial back the flash intensity for a more natural look.

6. Enable High-Speed Flash Sync

Have you ever wanted to use your flash in bright daylight or freeze action with a fast shutter speed? That’s where high-speed flash sync comes into play. If you exceed your camera’s maximum sync speed (usually around 1/125 or 1/250), you’ll end up with black bands in your photo because the shutter and flash aren’t in sync. 

High-speed flash sync (High-Speed Sync on Canon and Auto FP on Nikon) addresses this issue by aligning the flash duration with faster shutter speeds. This ensures the entire image is evenly lit, overcoming the limitations of traditional flash sync speeds.

7. Use More Than One Flash

Creating a scene that pops with a three-dimensional look involves more than just your main flash. You can play with shadows, highlights, and even rim lighting by incorporating multiple flashes to make your subject stand out. Imagine setting up a mini-studio anywhere you go:

  • Key Light: This is your main light, placed close to the camera but off to one side.
  • Fill Light: Positioned on the opposite side of the key light, it softens and balances the shadows created by the key light.
  • Backlight: Placed behind your subject, it adds a beautiful glow and helps separate your subject from the background.

You can control these flashes directly from your camera or with a wireless transmitter, creating everything from a simple two-point setup to a more complex three-point lighting scene.

Choose the Right Flash

When you’re ready to dive into the world of flash photography, there are a few things to keep in mind, especially if you want to move beyond the limitations of your camera’s built-in flash:

  • Opt for an External Flash: Built-in flashes often result in flat, uninteresting photos. An external flash, or speedlight, offers much more versatility and quality.
  • Consider Flash Duration and Battery Life: How long do you need the flash to last? How often will you be using it? The answers will guide your choice.
  • Flexibility is Key: Look for a flash that can quickly adapt to different scenes and settings. Can you move it around easily? Does it have a rotating head?
  • Manual vs. TTL (Through The Lens): Manual mode gives you full control over the lighting but requires more knowledge and setup time. On the other hand, TTL mode automates the process, adjusting the flash based on the scene’s lighting conditions. Some flashes offer both, giving you the best of both worlds.

Understanding these basics will help you create more dynamic and engaging photos, whether you’re shooting a portrait, a product, or a spontaneous moment.


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