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5 creative indoor portrait ideas - Part 4: Direct flash

(Image credit: Tom Calton)
Creative indoor portrait ideas

Part one: One-light portraits (opens in new tab)
Part two: Neon photography (opens in new tab)
Part three: Slit lighting effect (opens in new tab)
(opens in new tab)Part five: Shutter drag (opens in new tab)

When starting out in the world of flash photography, a common piece of advice is that, when using on-camera flash, you should always avoid pointing the flash directly at your model because it creates really harsh, unflattering lighting. 

In truth, if you know when to use direct flash, you can actually capture some really cool-looking images with it. Here, you’re going to need flash: a flashgun will ultimately give you more control over the settings, but you could technically use the built-in flash on your camera if that’s all you have. 

This technique will generally work with any combination of camera and lens, though a 35mm lens is perfect, as the wider angle will make your images look more candid.

Direct flash technique in six steps

(Image credit: Tom Calton)

1. Attach your flashgun

This technique uses on-camera flash, so turn on your flashgun and start off by sitting it on top of your camera using the hotshoe mount. If you’re using your camera’s built-in flash, activate this now.

(Image credit: Tom Calton)

2. Shoot in Manual

Using the mode dial on the top of your camera,  switch over to Full Manual mode (represented by the letter M). This will give you full control over the camera’s exposure settings.

(Image credit: Tom Calton)

3. Exposure settings

Now it’s time to dial in the exposure settings. Start by setting the shutter speed to around 1/250sec, and also narrow the aperture to around f/8 to ensure that you achieve an image with a deep depth of field.

(Image credit: Tom Calton)

4. Reduce the ISO

To ensure that you achieve the highest image quality, reduce the camera’s ISO setting to the lowest possible value. This is usually around ISO 100, though some camera’s may allow you to go lower than this.

(Image credit: Tom Calton)

5. Flash settings

If you’re shooting with a flashgun, now is the time to adjust its power settings. Using the controls on the back of the flash, increase the flash output to full power (1/1) for that harsh, edgy look..

(Image credit: Tom Calton)

6. Take the shot

Ask your model to stand in position, compose the shot, focus, and take the photo. Review the image on the back of your camera. If the image is too bright, reduce the flash power to 1/2 and try again.

Read more: 

Best 85mm lenses for portraits (opens in new tab)
Portrait photographers to follow this year (opens in new tab)
Home photography ideas (opens in new tab)

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Lauren Scott
Lauren Scott

Lauren is the Managing Editor of Digital Camera World, having previously served as Editor of Digital Photographer (opens in new tab) magazine, a practical-focused publication that inspires hobbyists and seasoned pros alike to take truly phenomenal shots and get the best results from their kit. 

An experienced photography journalist who has been covering the industry for over eight years, she has also served as technique editor for both PhotoPlus: The Canon Magazine (opens in new tab)PhotoPlus: The Canon Magazine and DCW's sister publication, Digital Camera Magazine (opens in new tab)

In addition to techniques and tutorials that enable you to achieve great results from your cameras, lenses, tripods and other photography equipment, Lauren can regularly be found interviewing some of the biggest names in the industry, sharing tips and guides on subjects like landscape and wildlife photography, and raising awareness for subjects such as mental health and women in photography.