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21.1 - 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.


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.


There are two disadvantages to using flash.


A flash may be obtrusive to your subject.

Ugly Light

There are four reasons for the ugliness of light from flashes.

1) Because the flash is usually tiny, ugly hotspots 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, volume and texture are not made evident.

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

How to Eliminate the Four "Ugly" Reasons

Ugly #1: Hotspots

Use the device below to make the flash larger.

By doing so, the hot spots will not 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 movement in the scene, 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 Volume or Texture

If you use a separate flash with an extension cord, you can move it around 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.