When Should I Use a Flash?

Flashes are so convenient that flash photography is practically the norm. But have you stopped to think about what that flash is doing, or whether you need to use it at all?

Built in and mount flashes can allow you to take pictures in low light environments you might not be able to use otherwise, and can change your shot, both for better or worse. Take a look through several different types of photography, and join the discussion with your own experience on when a flash is helpful, and when it can ruin a shot.

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Photography is all about light and how you choose to react to it, capture it, and control it. Before you take your photos, you’ll want to have some idea what sort of photograph you want to create. In the photograph above (by the author) the settings were manually changed to react and capture as much of the colors, subtle tones, and changes in light as possible in a dark environment. Because shooting with a flash changes the color temperature, light sources, highlights, and shadows, creating an portrait like this one would be impossible with a flash.

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However, flashes (and other methods of controlling lighting) certainly have a place in photography. Portraiture, such as these shots by child portrait by Jordan, control light two separate ways. The left image uses a lower light environment lit with a studio light to create strong shadows, while controlling highlights and skin tones to create a soft image with dramatic contrast. It’s a good example of a photographer controlling the light in order to create a strong image.

The image on the right is a good, subtle example of a flash. After a conversation with Amy, she discussed her love of using flashes to create smooth, even skin tones—a very different approach to your author’s attempt to capture the dramatic lights and shadows in the photograph above. When comparing the author’s photo and Amy’s, the cameras and lenses used were fairly similar, yet the result could not be more different.