Why Use a Flash?

Why Use a Flash?

Written 13 years ago by Mark Evans

For a long time I completely refused to use a flash when taking photographs. I was, and still am a great believer in using the available light to it’s fullest, before even thinking about a flash, but as I’ve found, and you may also find, there’s just some situations where you can’t do without one.

Portrait Shadows

Harsh shadows can wreck a nice shot when shooting portraits of any kind, be it during the day or during the night, so a flash can be extremely useful in reducing these shadows, and helps to illuminate facial features more evenly. Tip: If you have a hotshoe (external) flash, try pointing it at the ceiling (bounce flash), this will illuminate features from above, creating a more natural look. Also when using your on-camera flash, try putting a translucent white material, such as white greaseproof paper over the flash. This diffuses the light, again creating a more natural look by softening the harsh light of the flash.

Fill Flash

Many people may not think to use flash on a bright sunny day, but sometimes it can be extremely useful. Ever tried taking a portrait shot in bright conditions? Or even a landscape with close foreground interest? You’ll probably find that if the sun is slightly behind the subject, then the subjects features can hardly be seen while the background is perfectly exposed. To brighten the subject use a flash, and if your cameras flash is set on ‘auto’, set it to always fire – many point and shoots wont fire a flash when set to auto in bright sunny conditions.

Freeze Night Action

Photographing a moving object during the day can be quite challenging, let alone at night. However, having your flash go off during an exposure at night can help by freezing the moving object in the frame, so you don’t have to worry about having a massively long exposure, or a tripod to capture the scene. If you’re an SLR owner, you’ll want your flash settings on ‘1st Curtain’; this makes the flash go off just after the shutter opens, whereas ‘2nd Curtain’ fires the flash just before the shutter closes, creating a sometimes odd effect.

Photo by Philipp Klinger

Photo by Philipp Klinger


Granted you may not always need to use a flash, but if you take a lot of ‘people’ shots, then a flash such as Canons Speedlite ex430 is indispensable. It’s not badly priced either, and having one at the ready in your photography bag of tricks can’t be a bad thing. I fail to remember how many times mine has rescued me when the light just won’t deliver the goods.

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Salvacion  13 years ago

Hi Mark,
You have a really beautiful and informative site. For somebody who is self taught, you do know a lot. I am just 2 years into photography and also self taught. I still have a lot to learn but am getting there with a lot of help from people like you who share their expertise.

Thank you for this write-up on the use of flash. It is most helpful. I am also planning to read your other posts.

Mark Evans  13 years ago


Thanks for the great comments! Its nice to know that the info on Smash and Peas is useful to at least a few people!


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