Tips for Taking Great Flash Pictures with a Digital Camera

How to Avoid Flash Blow Out

Camera Flashes
Georges De Keerle / Staff / Getty Images

A common problem faced by photographers using compact digital cameras or pop-up flashes on DSLRs is the lack of control over the built-in flash. The flash can often be blinding and too strong, leading to blown out images.

If you are using a DSLR, the problem can easily be rectified by investing in a dedicated speedlight, which comes with the ability to be bounced in different directions. If you do not have that luxury, then here are some tips to help with camera flash problems.

Change Your Settings 

The easiest way to reduce the output of your flash is to alter your aperture, shutter speed, or (as a last resort) your ISO.

A higher ISO, a slower shutter speed, and a larger aperture will all increase the amount of light entering the camera lens and decrease the amount of flash needed. The camera's flash will automatically adjust and throw out less light, producing a more evenly lit image.

Another option is to manually change the flash exposure settings. Most DSLR cameras have this ability. You can decrease the flash output by a stop or so and allow the camera to make the appropriate shutter speed and aperture adjustments.

Move Away

The closer you are to your subject when using a flash, the more likely you are to suffer from flash blow out.

A simple way to avoid this is to step back and zoom in on your subject. Try to avoid zooming in too far, though, or you may suffer from camera shake, which is a common problem in low light situations.

Additionally, if you move back too far, your flash might not be powerful enough to give any light to the subject. You will have to experiment a little bit when using this technique to find the best distance for your flash unit.

Add Light

Flash blow out is common in low light scenes because the flash is over compensating for the lack of natural light.

If possible (and won't get you thrown out of a venue!), try turning on more lights to decrease the need for flash. Or, if any ambient light is coming through the windows, position your subjects near this light source. 

Diffuse the Flash

Dedicated speedlights come with diffusers designed to soften light from a flash.

If you don't have a diffuser, you easily can create your own by sticking a small piece of opaque material over your flash with masking tape. White tissue paper is ideal.

Take Advantage of Night Mode

Normally, I would avoid using scene modes, but the Night Mode can be useful in certain situations.

This is built into almost every camera on the market today and it turns the flash into a slow-sync flash. Your images may be a little soft because the shutter speed is slower, but the flash will still fire. This should be enough to freeze subjects, but with less light venom!