8 Killers Tips to Help You Master the On-Camera Flash

Michael Gabriel by Michael Gabriel on

Some photographers choose to use their on-camera flash rather than buy light modification attachments. For others, this may sound a bit limiting or maybe even difficult because your camera’s flash is something quite simple, compared to the highly advanced flash attachments, at least.

But, there are always things that you can do and techniques you can follow so you can use your on-camera flash to your advantage.

Pop-Up Flash
Pop-up flash on the Nikon D750

Additionally, using your camera’s flash will inspire you to become more innovative and more creative. The end result would even surprise you!

Making the Most Out of Your On-Camera Flash

  1. Fill Flash

    One of the things that often “disrupt” a perfect scene are unwanted shadows, specifically when you are doing portrait shoots. Most of the time, this happens when you shoot outdoors, in broad daylight. For this reason, you should use your on-camera flash.

    This may seem quite strange to some, but using on-camera flash helps take away the shadows that irritate you. This is what you call fill flash and it is a technique that professional photographers use especially when shooting backlit subjects.

  2. Bounce Technique

    Tip number two focuses on how you can effectively use your on-camera flash when shooting indoors; in your studio or anywhere that’s covered with a roof and bounded by walls. To get the lighting effect you want, use the bounce technique. You can do this by simply bouncing off the light from your flash against the walls and ceilings inside the room. Just tilt your flash a little so that it hits the wall or ceiling, and shoot your subject. Of course, you’ll have to consider the position or orientation of your subject.

    So, depending on where your subject is, you can choose to angle your flash behind you, up towards the ceiling or by your right/left side. It all depends on the effect you want to create. This technique is best for producing soft, dramatic and illuminated images.

  3. Diffuse the Light

    Aside from the bounce technique, you can also choose to diffuse the light from your on-camera flash and, to add more dramatic flair, change the light’s color. You can do this by using a variety of home-ready materials like a paper napkin or tracing paper (or anything similar in material) for eliminating unwanted shadows. For filters, you can use any colored translucent paper (like colored film gels). This will help give you the colored effect that you desire.

  4. Partially Block Your Flash

    Use a small flag or any opaque material (like a cut-out board) to prevent your flash’s light from directly hitting your subject. This will help eliminate shadows that won’t do justice to your subject. In addition, this technique is the best way to contain the light that spills off the sides of your flash area (which happens because light from your flash is usually wide, not straight).

  5. Move Away

    Another secret to softening the effect of flash lighting on your subject is to move it as far as you can from your camera. The further your subject goes; the lesser amount of light it gets. Don’t go too far, though, or you might not be able to properly focus on what matters most.

    Also, as you move your subject away, remember to retain your settings; don’t change them one bit, except for the ISO, which you need to boost a little.

  6. Bounce Card

    If you’re doing a location shoot and there are no walls or ceilings for bouncing off your flash, innovate by using a bounce card. You won’t have to spend a lot; all you need is a small piece of cardboard (white, of course; and just enough to cover the flash head) and something that you can use to hold it or keep it in place. You can use a sturdy rubber band (the thick ones).

    Again, you can experiment with the light by trying out different positions.

  7. Slow Sync

    Do not forget ambient light just because you’re using on-camera flash. Photographers who forget to consider ambient lighting when shooting with camera flash often come up with backgrounds that look like dark tunnels. This is because there is not enough light in the subject’s surroundings or environment. To avoid this common mistake, combine on-camera flash with ambient lighting.

    First off, you have to switch to manual mode if you want to achieve the best flash and ambient light effect. Then adjust your shutter speed according to how much ambient light you want to capture in the scene. You can also use “Slow Sync” flash since it allows for longer ambient light exposure before your on-camera flash starts firing away.

  8. Curtain Sync

    Although Slow Sync was mentioned in relation to ambient light, it does not only work for or with it. Slow Sync is one of the two methods of flash synchronization. The other method is “Curtain Sync”, where the flash fires right at the beginning. This is what most people are familiar with. Slow Sync, on the other hand, is called rear curtain sync because the flash fires at the end of the exposure.

    This is perfect for capturing images using slow shutter speed; specifically images that show action or motion.

These are just some tips and tricks that will help you use your on-camera flash in the best ways possible; in ways that will help your create the images and effect you desire. Of course, you can always choose to turn off that flash; but then again, what’s the use of it if you don’t take advantage of your on-camera flash from time-to-time? They say “practice makes perfect”; so, every time you use your on-camera flash, you’re on your way to perfecting the method. However, it’s always important to remember that there is a lot of good lighting in most of the locations you shoot in.

The on-camera flash is to be used only when you need extra help in getting the outcome you want. In photography, as is always the case, creativity is the order of the day – whether you work with on-camera flash or not.

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