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February 22, 2011 / arthill

Better flash photography

You’ll read a lot of advice that tells you to avoid flash photography – always use available light, put the subject by a window, go outdoors.  All great advice unless you live someplace where the temperature plunges in winter, the sun is hidden for days on end or simply that you’re in a room with no windows and not much light.  Sooner or later you’re going to want to take pictures with flash and I’m going to tell you how to get the best results.  There are three problems with the flash that is built in to your camera.

  1. It isn’t very powerful.
  2. It creates a very two dimensional look because it lights up the front of your subject and not the top and sides.
  3. It is positioned close to the lens and gives you the dreaded red-eye.

DSLR’s do a little better with red-eye since the flash is a little higher above the lens than a non-DSLR but it isn’t much better.

The solution is to use an external flash.  If your camera has a hot-shoe you can mount an external flash.

If you don’t have the money for an external flash for about $20 you can get a Puffer.  This handy little device helps diffuse the light from your built-flash. puffer DSCN0046 (2)

Still the best thing is an external flash.  Even with one of those though, if you point it directly at the subject you’ll get that flat, two-dimensional lighting.  We’re used to seeing light from the sun overhead lights on our subjects. The solution is to bounce the light off of the ceiling.  Tilt the head of your flash upward so that it points to the ceiling.  This will produce better results than pointing the flash directly at the subject.  For wider angle shots it will also light up more of the objects in your shot. 

Because bounce flash comes down on the subject it can sometimes result in shadows under the nose, chin, or lips.  Either rubberband a white business card to the top of your flash to reflect a little bit of light directly at the subject or use the pop up white card built-in to the flash just for this purpose.

I have also improved my external flash shots using the Lumiquest 80-20


More recently I’ve been using the Sto-fen Omnibounce


You might find it helpful to compare these shots of my cats.

flash compare


Leave a Comment
  1. Maryann Goldman / Feb 22 2011 6:49 am

    I bought the puffer based on your recommendation, but I have not tried it yet. Soon! I was ordering something on Amazon for the boys and figured why not get it too. Mom’s need stuff sometimes too:-)

    New blog looks great.

  2. 2guysphoto / Feb 24 2011 7:58 am

    I also have a Stofen and it works great. I’ve even used it over my pop-up flash – it actually diffuses pretty well. Great Blog art. Ed Spadoni

  3. Hillary / Jun 3 2011 10:55 am

    I have a stoffen and a Gary Fong diffuser, but have not really played with them enough to use them well.. Keep defaulting on angling my flash up or to the side and using the white popup card. I think now that I am starting to better understand using Manual and flash I will give it more time to learn to use it better. Thanks for the link to these posts..great information. Love what you write!

  4. Debbie / Aug 10 2012 2:26 pm

    Cool — thanks for the recommendation. I have a Gary Fong diffuser which I use almost all the time on my shoe flash, bouncing it off the ceiling or the wall. However, I am basically an amateur when it comes to flash.

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