How to eliminate harsh shadows when using flash

Using flash: remove harsh shadows - Step 2

Using flash: remove harsh shadows - final image

One of the biggest problems photographers encounter when using flash are harsh shadows in the background. In particular, flash shadows are the bane of anyone who shoots portrait photography (for more on problems like this, see 99 common photography problems – and how to solve them).

In the tutorial below we show you how you can eliminate shadows from your pictures so you can start taking flawless portraits.

Using flash: remove harsh shadows - before image

An example of harsh shadows

How to eliminate harsh shadows when using flash


Using flash: remove harsh shadows - Step 1

Step 1: Watch your distance
To avoid horrible shadows on flash-lit portraits, ensure that your subject is positioned two feet or more in front of the background. Even bounced flash will struggle to make shadows disappear from a subject that’s placed directly in front of a background.

Using flash: remove harsh shadows - Step 2

Step 2: Bounce it all around
Pointing the head of a hotshoe flashgun vertically and bouncing the light off the ceiling is a simple way to avoid subject shadows. As the light hits the ceiling it diffuses and bounces around the room, illuminating the space between the subject and the background (see our guide to Bounce flash photography in 4 simple steps).

Using flash: remove harsh shadows - Step 3

Step 3: Set the power and zoom
As the light has reflected off the ceiling, you’ll lose a stop or two of power. Let the camera look after the exposure and keep the flash power at the standard TTL setting, with no compensation. Change the flash zoom to 50mm for the most effective spread of light.


44 essential digital camera tips and tricks
Digital camera effects from A-Z
Free portrait lighting cheat sheet

  • StephStephanieSteph

    I was googling “on camera flash prevent shadows” and I came across your article. I’m a youth sports photographer and most of the time we cannot bring lighting with us on shoots. Does bouncing a flash work on high ceilings such as those in a gymnasium? If not can you think of anything mobile to use to avoid shadows? We clone out the shadows in ps before sending them to our customers. Also, I thought I’d ask you about the reflection on the player’s legs. Do you have any advice on how to prevent that? We alos get rid of those too when we post process!