Flash compensation: how to get perfectly balanced exposures

How to use flash compensation: step 3

Digital cameras are sophisticated, but they’re not foolproof. Flash photography, for instance, is a minefield of exposure errors. Outdoor portrait photography can end up looking like irradiated over-flashed zombies or sullen under-flashed silhouettes. Using flash compensation to help balance the light flashed onto a subject and blend it perfectly with the background is a must for natural-looking pictures.

Flash compensation: how to get perfectly balanced exposures

Start by switching to a semi-automatic shooting mode, such as Shutter or Aperture Priority, via your camera’s top dial. Pop up the flash, fire a test shot and check the results.

To apply flash compensation simply hold down the flash compensation button and scroll the main dial to adjust. Re-shoot, check and work the power up or down in 1/3 stop increments until the shots look better.

If you’re shooting outdoors in sunny conditions, far away from your subject, you’ll need more power to balance the bright ambient lighting. If you’re shooting close and somewhere shady, chances are you’ll want to wind the power down.

Should you use flash compensation indoors? Yes! The results won’t look so natural, due to the mixture of indoor lighting and shadows, but flash compensation will help give your indoor flash work a real boost.

Step-by-step how to use flash compensation


How to use flash compensation: step 1

01 Switch to Aperture Priority
Flash compensation works well in Manual exposure mode, but to keep things simple it’s also okay to use aperture or shutter priority. This will ensure that the background or any ambient light exposure isn’t affected.


How to use flash compensation: step 2

02 Built-in flash compensation
The flash exposure compensation button will be near the pop-up flash, illustrated by a flash zigzag symbol and often a + and – symbol. You’ll also find the relevant controls and settings in your camera’s menu system.


How to use flash compensation: step 3

03 Adjusting external flashguns
Hotshoe-mounted flashgun designs vary, but the flash output can easily be adjusted by turning the main circular flash dial where relevant, by pressing the + and – symbols, or by pressing the up and down chevron buttons.


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