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Beecher's Handouts >

20 – Flash

1 – Pros & Cons of Using Flash

Any source of light has pros and cons.

Flash, unlike other light sources, has vociferous critics.

That's because flash can be so ugly if it's used carelessly.

However, flash need not be ugly.

2 – Pros

There are two advantages.

Adds Light

Flash allows you to photograph in dim lighting.

The dim light may be everywhere, such as in a living room.

Or, the dim light may only be the shadow on someone's face that's in the sun.

Acts Like a Fast Shutter Speed

Flash can act like a fast shutter speed.

The blink, or duration of the light from a pop-up flash, may be as little as 1/30,000th of a second.

You can stop action.

3 – Cons

There are two disadvantages to using flash.


A flash may be obtrusive to your subject.


There are four reasons for the ugliness of light from on-camera, direct, flashes.

1) Because the flash is usually tiny, ugly highlights are created on faces and objects.

2) Like any light source, indoors, the light from a flash diminishes rapidly with distance.

The background will be dark.

3) Because the flash is on the camera, the light is almost shadowless.

Without shadows, shape and texture are not made evident.

4) Flashes can produce distracting reflections on eyeglasses, and on objects and surfaces behind the subject.

Eliminate the Four Ugly Reasons

Ugly #1: Hotspots

Use the device below to make the flash larger.

By doing so, the highlights won't be as pronounced.


Ugly #2: Dark Backgrounds

Pop-up Flash

Try using the Night Portrait setting.

It's an icon of a figure with a star or moon on your exposure-mode dial.

The flash will illuminate the foreground, and the shutter will stay open to gather light from the background.

If there's camera or subject movement, it may show due to the slow shutter speed.

Separate Flash

If you want the light from the flash to reach further, you can aim a separate flash at the ceiling.

This is called bouncing the light.

The sun-like flash on your camera, when aimed at the ceiling, becomes more like cloudy-day lighting.

The entire space will be more evenly illuminated.

Ugly #3: Little Shape or Texture

If you use a separate flash:

• You can aim it at a wall, and the light will bounce off of the wall on to your subject.

• If you have an extension cord, you can move the flash to create shadows.

For example, for pleasant shadows on a face, use the flash high and to the side.

To camouflage wrinkles, use the flash nearer the camera.

Ugly #4: Distracting Reflections

Use a separate flash.

Bounce the flash off of the ceiling.

Or, use the flash with an extension cord.

You can move the flash around to avoid producing reflections.

Let's look at how you can use flash to brighten shadows when you're doing a portrait on a sunny day.

4 – Fill Flash

You're used to using flash when there's not enough light—such as indoors.

You can also use your flash when photographing in the sun for the same reason—when there's not enough light.

Question: When is there not enough light in the sun?

Answer: The shadows


No Flash


Fill Flash

In the top photograph, no flash was used.

You can tell because the shadow is dark, and there's no tell-tale hotspot from the flash.

What wrong with the photograph?

1) The pumpkin doesn't look very orange, because it's in shadow.

2) The sky and the porch railing are washed out.

The photograph on the bottom was made with flash.

The flash has brightened the shadow, and allowed the sky and railing to be darker.

The highlight from the flash isn't pleasing.

A reflector would have brightened the shadow without the highlight.

But how often do you have a reflector—and someone who can hold it for you?

When to Use Fill Flash

Use your flash when photographing in the sun and there are shadows.

For example, use your flash when photographing . . .

1) Someone wearing a hat with a brim that is casting a shadow on his or her face.

2) Someone with sunlight on one side of his or her face.

3) A still life, such as a 1940s Bakelite radio at an outdoor flea market.

4) A valley that's half in shadow from a mountain, and half in the sun.

No, unfortunately, you can't do #4.

That's because the flash on your camera will only reach about ten or so feet.

So, if your subject is farther away than about ten feet, fill flash will not be useful.

How to Pop the Flash Up

Digital SLR & Mirrorless Cameras

Use A or Av, S or Tv, or P.

Then press the flash button to pop it up.

Remember to push the flash down when you're finished with the portrait.

Point-and-shoot Cameras

Press the flash icon (lightning bolt) repeatedly until you see a lightning bolt icon accompanied by the word On.

Remember to restore the flash to automatic operation.

5 – Flash Exposure Compensation

Exposure compensation is the feature with which you can adjust the exposure.

You can make the exposure lighter or darker.

Your camera probably also has flash exposure compensation.

Flash exposure compensation allows you to adjust the brightness of the shadows when using fill flash.

Below, flash was used to brighten the pumpkin in shadow.

The flash was dimmed by a half stop in the middle photograph, and a full stop in the bottom photograph.


No Flash Exposure Compensation (0.0)


Flash Exposure Compensation -0.5


Flash Exposure Compensation -1.0

6 – Red Eye

Red eye is produced when the flash is near the camera, as it is most often.

Red eye is created when the light from the flash bounces off of the retina in the back of the subject's eyes.

Reduce Red Eye

Increase the ambient light by turning on all of the available light sources.

This will make the subject's pupils smaller, thereby making the red-eye dots smaller.

Avoid photographing the subject with a mug-shot-type pose.

Eliminate Red Eye

Use a separate flash, and bounce the flash off the ceiling.

Or, use a separate flash with an extension cord so the flash can be held away from the camera.

Cats & Dogs

Why do the eyes of cats and dogs reflect back yellow or green, and not red?

They, and many other animals that are active at night, have a membrane in front of the retina called the tapetum lucidum.

Light hits the retina, and some of the light is reflected back out to the tapetum.

This reflected light is then reflected back to the retina, improving night vision.

When photographed, the light from the flash is reflected off of, and is colored by, the tapetum.

7 – Catch Lights

Catch lights add vitality to a portrait.

Catch lights are the reflections of light sources on the surface of the eyes.

If you're using fill flash to brighten shadows, the flash will create catch lights.

If there's no need for fill flash, you can create catch lights by setting the flash exposure compensation from between about –2.0 to –3.0.

Pop up the flash manually, and experiment, to determine the best setting.

You don't want the flash to be bright enough to be visible on the face of the subject.

For more about catch lights, go to Tip: Catch Lights Add Vitality.