6 clever ways to get better lighting from your camera’s pop-up flash

Built-in flash

Most entry- and enthusiast-level cameras come with a pop-up flash, which though not especially powerful, can come in very handy. In this tutorial, the experts at Photoventure show you six built-in flash techniques than can help you get the better results from this often overlooked and somewhat maligned feature.

Built in flash techniques: 01. Fill-in flash

Built in flash techniques: 01. Fill-in

One of the most important lessons that you can learn about flash is that it’s not just for use when it’s dark, it can really boost your daylight images as well.

A little fill-in light can bring images to life, especially portraits, by adding a little sparkle and lifting dark shadows.

The first step is to pop-up your camera’s flash and set it to Fill-in, Forced or Flash-on, this tells it to fire even if the exposure system thinks that there’s enough light without it.

In many cases your camera will now ensure that the shutter speed is within the flash and camera’s sync range, often slower than 1/125sec, but sometimes 1/250 or 1/60sec — your manual will say.

If the camera doesn’t automatically set a suitable shutter speed you’ll need to adjust it manually and then you’re good to go.

Fill-in light is especially useful with back-lit subjects as it enables you to record some detail in the bright surroundings as well as the subject that’s in shadow.

And on bright sunny days it allows you to place your subject in shade so that their eyes aren’t screwed up against the sun.

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Built-in flash techniques: 02 Use flash exposure compensation

Built in flash techniques: 02. Use flash exposure compensation

Flash exposure can be varied just like the overall exposure, however, instead of using the exposure compensation control you need to use the Flash Exposure (FE) compensation control.

This will increase or decrease the flash output depending upon what you dial in.

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It’s worth noting that with modern TTL (through the lens) metering systems the exposure is adjusted above and below what the camera considers to be correct.

Flash exposure compensation is a very useful feature that helps to balance flash power with the ambient light, which means it’s great when you’re using fill-in flash mode.

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Built in flash techniques: 03. Diffuse

Built in flash techniques: 03. Diffuse

Because the on-camera flash is a relatively small source of light it can be very harsh, potentially creating unpleasant highlights and deep shadows.

This is easily rectified by diffusing the light to make it softer.

There are lots of on-camera flash diffusers available on the market, or you can make your own with a strip of translucent white plastic, from a milk container, for example — although this can have an impact on white balance.

Even a piece of greaseproof paper or tissue can be used in an emergency.

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Another possible option is to bounce the light from the flash off the ceiling. You’ll need a small rectangle of white card or something similar that can be held in front of the flash and angled up towards the ceiling.

The light will hit the card and bounce up to the ceiling from where it bounces down onto the subject.

This gives your subject nice soft light from above, creating a natural look. It’s essential that the ceiling is white otherwise the light will be coloured and look unnatural when it hits your subject.

As on-camera flashes aren’t especially powerful it won’t work with very high ceilings.

Diffusing and bouncing the flash effectively reduces its power, so your subject may need to be closer or the camera’s sensitivity set a little higher.

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