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Flash

Flash photography is hard to predict at first


This image is the result of shooting without flash in a relatively-dark arena
This image is the result of shooting without flash in a relatively-dark arena

There is probably no type of photography that is more disappointing to the beginner than flash photography. Unlike natural-light photography, where what you see can often be what you get, it is difficult to visualize what the effects of using flash will be. Flash is shut off until the moment of exposure, and then its illumination is too brief to visually evaluate what it does to your picture.

Many of us just hope for the best, and when our film is returned from being processed or when you view your pictures on your digital camera's viewing screen, we are frequently surprised by the disappointing appearance of those in which we used flash. Shadows can be harsh due to the high contrast from direct flash, and images can look stark; sometimes, facial lighting is flat or subjects have red-eye; foreground objects are often overexposed, looking bleached out, while background objects are darker than we expected - and these are only some of the problems of using flash incorrectly. The sad results are that we become frustrated and tend to not use flash as often as we could, or we just accept the poor results of flash photography as unavoidable.


The other side of the coin is that, properly employed, flash can improve your pictures, provide you with a useful creative tool and allow you to take excellent photographs where there is insufficient ambient light.

After all, flash photography has been in use since the 1860s (when magnesium wire - later magnesium-based powder - was ignited to obtain a sufficiently-bright light), and we have come a long way from those early days in perfecting safer, less-messy and easier-to-deal-with systems of flash photography. When you think of the hardships and technical problems photographers must have dealt with 140 and more years ago in taking flash pictures, it may inspire you. Compared with those early times, it is very easy to learn how to use today's relatively-simple flash systems to make even better pictures.

This picture was taken with flash, using a medium telephoto lens (105 mm)
This picture was taken with flash, using a medium telephoto lens (105 mm)

Flash overexposed the foliage in the foreground, underexposed the background, but properly illuminated the subject - a
Flash overexposed the foliage in the foreground, underexposed the background, but properly illuminated the subject - a "wet 'vette" that went off the road.

KNOWLEDGE & EXPERIENCE MAKE GOOD FLASH PICTURES

This section of PhotographyTips.com is intended to unwrap some of the mysteries of flash, and explain the techniques you need to know when you decide to add light from a flash (or more than one flash) to your pictures.

Once you put the information that is available here into practice, you should notice an improvement in your flash pictures, but there will likely still be some problem photos.


The real learning process occurs over time, with trial and error. You should not expect to become an instant expert at flash photography, but persistence and observation (constantly comparing your pictures with earlier ones, and identifying not only the problems to overcome, but the successes you have achieved) will give you the experience you need to control flash and produce consistently-good flash pictures.

Click on the links at the bottom of the page for more information on the correct use of flash. We suggest you begin with Shutter speeds for flash.

This image shows the stopping power of flash. These basketballs seem frozen in mid-air.
This image shows the stopping power of flash. These basketballs seem frozen in mid-air.

Flash is very useful outdoors, especially as fill flash to brighten shadow areas on sunny days.
Flash is very useful outdoors, especially as fill flash to brighten shadow areas on sunny days.

SEND US YOUR FLASH PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS

If you have a flash photography tip that is not mentioned on PhotographyTips.com and wish to share it with our viewers, we invite you to send it in, preferably with a picture to illustrate the tip.

We will be sure to mention your name as the originator of the information, and to give you credit for taking the picture.


Viewer Glenn Leite, for instance, submitted this tip, which he calls "High Speed Flash Sync."

Glenn writes:

"For fast action shots like hockey, I get great shots by shooting at ice level from the penalty box. Yes I have permission from the coach.

"I always use a flash with a dispersion dome and sync it at 1/500 of a second to freeze the action and get great color.

"Most high quality digital SLR cameras allow high speed syncing with a flash. A high quality lens such as the Nikon 80-200 f/2.8 ED AF-D is perfect for indoor sports. Vibration Reduction (VR) really doesn't gain you anything at faster shutter speeds except to lighten your wallet."

When he refers to syncing, Glenn is writing about Flash Synchronization, which you can learn more about at Shutter speeds for flash.

These action-stopping pictures were taken by Glenn Leite using a combination of flash and a fast shutter speed.
These action-stopping pictures were taken by Glenn Leite using a combination of flash and a fast shutter speed.
Further information...

Aperture settings for flash

Shutter speeds for flash

Fill flash

Softening flash

Red eye

Off-camera flash

Miscellaneous tips
Related topics...

Flash-to-subject distance