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Photo Tips > Flash >

Flash 101 > 1 - Basic Flash

1 - Flash-o-phobes

Some photographers never use flash because the light is ugly.

They may not realize that one can use flash with aplomb.

There's nothing bad about any light source.

What matters is how you use it.

2 - Congratulations

If you purchased a separate flash, congratulations!

A separate flash will improve your indoor photographs more than any other factor.


Bounce flash, which will be described below.

If you haven't bought a flash, go to How to Buy a Flash.

If you want to use an old flash on your camera, be careful.

Go to Old Flash?.


In photography, what you see isn't what you get.

We don't see contrast and color the way camera sensors do.

When you use flash, obviously, we can't see its 1/30,00th of a second blink.

But, you can predict what it will look like in the photograph.

A flash is a small light source.

When pointed directly at the subject, any small light source produces light like that of a sunny day.

• The shadows are dark.

• There's unsightly glare on people's faces.

Plus, with flash, their eyes may be red.

With a separate flash, you can use bounce flash.

You simply aim the flash at the ceiling.

You're going from a tiny light source, the flash, to one that's relatively huge, the ceiling.

Bounce flash is more like the light in the shade, or on an overcast day.

• The shadows are brighter.

• There's no glare on faces or red eyes.

4 - You Just Bought a Flash

Thick Instruction Manual

The instruction manual for your flash may be longer than the one that came with your camera.

Do read the instruction manual, but realize that there are large sections, such as using more than one flash at a time, that you can skip.

You can do a lot with your flash right out of the box.

Try It Out

Look for a quick guide from the flash manufacturer, or do the following.

1) The flash and your camera should be off.

2) Install the batteries in the flash.

3) Mount the flash on the hot shoe of your camera, and lock the flash to your camera.

4) Turn the flash and camera on.

5) Set the camera exposure mode to Program (P).

6) The flash is probably set to an automated setting, such as TTL, by default.

7) Do the experiments below.

5 - Experiments

Experiment #1 - Direct Flash

Take some photographs with direct flash.

Direct flash means the flash is pointed at the subject.

Experiment #2 - Bounce Flash

Tilt the flash head up.

Usually, you have to press a button somewhere to allow the flash to tilt.

If the subject is close, aim the flash straight up.

If the subject is further away, aim the flash at the point on the ceiling that's midway between you and the subject.

Increase the ISO

Increase the ISO to compensate for:

• The increased distance the light travels, up to the ceiling and down.

• The wide dispersion of the flash light from the ceiling.

Bounce Flash Cautions

You can't use bounce flash if the ceiling is black, colored, or is very high.

If you're near a dark colored wall, its color may become incorporated into the photograph.

Blue or green walls are most problematic.

A red wall may add red to the light, but it may be pleasing.

Experiment #3 - Fill Flash

If you have a recent Nikon flash, set it to TTL-BL.

If you have a recent Canon flash, set it to E-TTL.

Then, take your flash outside on a sunny day.

Fill Flash is used in two situations.

Situation #1 - Shadows

Shadows always appear darker when photographed.

You van brighten them with your flash.

Photograph someone wearing a hat on a sunny day.

Take one photograph without the flash.

The shadow under the brim of the hat will be too dark.

Then, take another photograph with the flash turned on.

The shadows should still be there, but brighter due to the flash.

Compare the photographs on your computer monitor.

It may be hard to see the difference on your camera's LCD screen.

If the shadows are too bright, you'll learn how to reduce the brightness of the flash.

Situation #2 - Backlighting

Photograph someone in front of a sunset.

Take one photograph without the flash.

The person will be too dark.

Then, do another with the flash turned on.

You should be able to see the person's face due to the flash.

Compare the photographs on your computer monitor.

It may be hard to see the difference on your camera's LCD screen.

Go to Fill Flash.

Experiment #4 - Zoom Your Lens

Put your ear near your flash, and zoom your lens back-and-forth.

You'll probably hear a noise inside your flash.

That's a motor moving the flash tube.

As you zoom in (more telephoto), the flash tube is moved further away from the front of the flash.

The light will be more concentrated in the center of the field.

The light from the flash will go farther.

As you zoom out (more wide angle), the flash tube is moved away from the front of the flash.

The light will be more spread out.

Flash Extenders

If you're far away from the subject, you can install a lens on the flash to concentrate the light.

For example, let's say you're a nature photographer, and you want to photograph a distant bird.

Try the Better Beamer or similar products.

Experiment #5 - Two Pull Out Accessories

A Flat Lens

There may be a flat lens that pulls out from the flash head.

Flip this lens down in front of the flash when you're using a wide focal length.

The prisms on the lens spread the light from the flash to prevent dark edges and corners.

Zoom to the widest focal length on your lens.

Take one photograph without the flat lens.

Then, take another with the flat lens flipped down over the flash.

Compare the two photographs on your computer monitor.

The slight difference probably won't be visible on your camera's LCD screen.

White Card

Let's say you're photographing someone with bounce flash.

Your subject's eyes will be dark.

Their eyebrows will block the light coming down from the ceiling.

When you use the white card, some of the light from the flash bounces off the card into your subject's eyes.

Take one photograph without the white card.

The flash should be aimed straight up.

Then, take another with the white card pulled up.

Compare the subject's eyes in the two photographs.

Again, use your computer monitor, as the difference may not be visible on your camera's LCD screen.

If your flash doesn't have a white card, attach a white  index card to the flash with a rubber band.

The card should stick out about two inches above the flash head.

Then, get Sto-Fen's Two-Way Bounce or Omni Bounce, a Lumiquest 80-20, or something similar.

6 - Practice

Practice the above experiments.

Your photography will improve greatly.

To learn more about using flash, with even more aplomb, read on.