Using A Flash

It is not always easy to evaluate the proper amount of lighting for photo composition. Because of this I notice a lot of people use the built-in camera flash to compensate when pictures are too dark.

I do not want to be seen as a “kill-joy” or “professional guru” when I write this, but here it goes: “It is better to leave your built-in camera flash off and use an added floor lamp or other “natural” lighting for proper exposure.”

Adding light does not mean you are required to use oodles and gobs of lights, rather to concentrate the cumulative light on your subject.

Here are some suggestions on concentrating light.


  • Take a strand of clear miniature Christmas tree lights (150+ bulbs) and lay them in an orderly “heap” near and partially under your subject. This creates a warm glow of light on your subject.
  • Set-up the shot in-front of a window facing the sunny side of the house and use a reflector to reduce the harsh shadows behind the subject.
  • Using a light-colored bed sheet provides a uniform background and at the same time reflects some light to reduce harsh shadows made by the light source.
  • Use a reading light or floor lamp, positioning it toward your subject for more direct lighting. If it is too harsh, diffuse it with a thin piece of fabric or white reflector. (NOTE: Be careful of colored fabrics so as not to unwittingly color your subject the wrong shade of purple!)
  • Flash lights are another good option for adding light. They may also need to be used in tandem with a diffuser.

The reason that pictures turn out  better 99% of the time without the built-in flash is this: The flash is too close to the camera lens giving the wrong lighting angle. Thus using other forms of lighting prompts us to find the best defining angles for our subject.

This is another reason that professional photographers will turn their hot-shoe flashes to bounce off of a surface near the subject.

It is important to have fun while experimenting with lighting and do not feel pressured to use conventional equipment!


“Insider tips”

Sorry to disappoint you. This is not a blog for insider trading tips on Wall Street or international markets. However, if you are a hobbyist or professional photographer, you may be interested in these ideas for “unconventional uses of non-standard equipment.”

Have you ever wanted to use a welding mask as a lens filter to catch that solar flare? Maybe your object is silhouetted against the sun, or you just need another filter to get this picture while a new filter is in shipment. Have no fear, the “jack of all unconventionally used equipment” has some suggestions. [No, the super hero bit does not work for the author. -Editor]

A welder’s mask is an option though usually bulky and not practical to carry with your bag of equipment.

On the left is a lens from wrap around sunglasses and a picture to it’s right that illustrates the effects it gives to a photograph shooting into the sun.

For less bulk and still providing some amount of light filtering, try using a lens from an old pair of sunglasses (picture on the right). Holding the sunglasses lens up to your camera lens as if it were your eye works very well.

Pictured below is a flash-light I carry in my camera bag which is not sold as a piece of photography equipment. The picture next to it illustrates what it adds to a shot.

The light which makes the walls to glow are from the lights in the Christmas tree, but without the flash-light pictured above, the presents and the bow would have been silhouetted. The use of the flash-light in this picture is in the style of photography called "light painting". It is a very interesting technique.

This is the family Christmas tree with some slight and true edits.

Have you ever needed a flash and the built-in flash never properly illuminated or over illuminated your subject? Try mounting your camera on a tripod and lighting your subject with a flash-light, by hand, instead of a flash. This can be tricky, but with planned coordination a lot of fun! There are several things that will need to be prepared before hand in order for this solution to be effective.

  1. A sturdy tripod adjusted to the appropriate height.
  2. Camera shutter speed set so that you have time to illuminate the subject.
  3. Test the proper White Balance setting for the flash-light so as to prevent odd coloring in the photo.
  4. Test the amount of time you will need to illuminate the subject for proper exposure.

This is not meant to tell you how to do anything, although we do hope it gives you the help and creative suggestions that you need to try new things. Enjoy and keep learning!