A Beginner’s Guide to Flash Photography

May 18, 2011

in Lighting, Photography Tutorials

A Beginner's Guide to Flash Photography via I Heart Faces

Are you wanting to learn more about flash photography, but not sure where to start? Maybe you feel it’s not for you because you are a “natural light” photographer?  Today’s guide to Flash might help you think otherwise.

Flash can be used in many ways (to create drama, add depth and dimension, etc), today we are focusing on using flash combined with ambient light to create a “non-flashy” natural looking image.

A Beginner's Guide to Flash Photography - I Heart Faces

Have you ever found a great location (indoors or outdoors), but the available light is crummy or non-existent so you either come out with unusable images or you just can’t use that location?

Maybe you have been scared to show up for a newborn session because you are worried about what kind of window light is available in your client’s home?

Have you found yourself not shooting at all or scared to take sessions during the cold, darker months for fear you won’t have enough light?

A Beginner's Guide to Flash Photography via I Heart Faces

I absolutely love natural light.  But, I am here to announce that I love flash too.  It has opened up a whole new world for me and has given me so many more options while shooting.

Now, I don’t have to worry about asking my client’s about their windows, how big they are, and what direction they face.  If the natural light isn’t there, I create my own.


A Beginner's Guide to Flash Photography via I Heart Faces


Introduction to Flash Photography

* Camera and Flash settings are used in manual modes

If you don’t want to have the flashy-deer-in-the-headlights-with-the-background-all-dark look, you need to remember two things…

1. Take your flash off of your camera!

You want to have directional light coming from somewhere other than straight in front of your subject.

You will need a speedlight (here are samples from Nikon and Canon), a light modifier (such as an umbrella), stand and umbrella adapter, and something to trigger your flash (I use PocketWizards, but any cheap remote or even your camera’s pop up flash will do the trick).  You will also need a cold shoe adaptor (to connect your speedlight to the umbrella adapter).

In all of the images shown above, I was in front of my subject with a speedlight and umbrella at about 45 degrees to my subject.

A Beginner's Guide to Flash Photography via I Heart Faces


If you have a speedlight (external flash), but none of the other equipment I mentioned, you may be able to still practice with your flash off camera (depending on your camera model and flash). Pull out your camera’s owner manual and learn how to trigger your speedlight with your camera’s pop up flash. Have someone hold your flash and point it straight up toward a white ceiling. Start shooting and you will get amazing, directional soft light that is being bounced off of the ceiling (vs straight from your camera).

2. Shutter Speed & Aperture.

When you are using flash, SHUTTER SPEED CONTROLS HOW MUCH AMBIENT LIGHT COMES IN. APERTURE CONTROLS FLASH EXPOSURE. When shooting in natural light, we are taught not to go below 1/250 shutter speed with children for fear of blurry images. Because flash will freeze the motion, you can use a lower shutter speed (such as 1/50) to bring in a lot of ambient light to give you a more “natural light” looking image.

Another myth is that you can not produce nice bokeh when using flash.

You can still shoot at a wide aperture ( f2.8) if you just lower the flash power on your speedlight. In the closeup image of the sleeping baby, I shot at f2.8, ISO 200, and lowered my flash power down to 1/64 (1/1 being full power and 1/128 being the lowest power) to get a proper exposure. You can see that shooting at a wide aperture, even with flash, you can still achieve beautiful bokeh.

In the images below, you can see how controlling the shutter speed and aperture can produce totally different results. Both were taken within minutes of each other. Both were taken with flash.

In the first image, my camera settings were 1/250, f5.6, ISO 200, and flash was around 1/4 power. These settings produced a more “flashy” image with deeper contrast and more vivid colors.

A Beginner's Guide to Flash Photography via I Heart Faces

In the second image, my camera settings were 1/60 (lowered my shutter speed to let in more ambient light), f2.8 (allow more depth of field), ISO 200, and flash power was around 1/16.  These settings produced a more “natural light” feel with softer contrast and colors.

A Beginner's Guide to Flash Photography via I Heart Faces

Don’t be afraid of your flash!  Yes, it does take practice.  Yes, you will probably have to pull out your owners manual to your camera and/or flash and learn a few things.  But, you will love the new options that will open up to you.  No more worrying about the light available to you.  If it isn’t there, create it yourself!


jean smithAbout Jean Smith
Nothing brings me greater joy than the four loves of my life…my boys (all four of them), my husband (a photographer as well), my religion, and of course, photography.  I am addicted to Diet Coke and Cadbury Mini Eggs and would prefer to spend my time traveling with my family and taking pictures of anything and everything along the way!
Jean is located in New Hudson, Michigan and you can find her work on her website, her blog, or on Facebook.


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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Yazmin May 25, 2016

What camera and lens were you using?


Elizabeth July 12, 2015

Do you have anymore articles on this topic?


Elizabeth July 12, 2015

Best article I’ve read so far explaining this topic. Thank you so much!!


kitty March 20, 2013

Hello, could someone please advise me?… I’m a beginner in photography, and something in this article has confused me. Jean has said in the article that using f2.8 has given her more depth of field????….. I thought the lower the number aperture the less depth of field you get?????….. If someone could advise me, I’d really appreciate it 🙂 x


Rachel September 17, 2014

Your correct, f2.8 = narrower or less depth of field! apposed to f16 exposing more depth and more of the subject in focus from front to back….


I Heart Faces September 23, 2014

In the case of this tutorial writer, shooting at 2.8 did give her more depth of field as compared to shooting at 1.2, 1.4, 1.8, etc.

Hope this helps!


Rikki Hatfield March 6, 2013

Great tips, thanks for sharing!


Wedding Photographer Barrie August 27, 2012

Great post, I have been fine tuning my off-camera technique and this is very helpful. Thank you!


Rachel July 25, 2012

this is a fantastic tutorial! thank you!


Sandy November 10, 2011

Great article! Thank you 🙂


Armando Vernaglia Jr July 2, 2011

RT @_leandromello: Muito bom o post meu amigo. RT @adiphotos Não tenho medo do flash! http://bit.ly/iCgbAg #fotografia #dica


Adiraphaeli July 2, 2011

Não tenho medo do flash! http://bit.ly/iCgbAg #fotografia #dica


Barry Chignell June 6, 2011

Flash Photography- Dont Be Afraid! | Photo Challenges, Photography Tutorials and Camera Tips – I Heart Faces http://su.pr/2WHzBZ


Kiranda Mays May 29, 2011

I can’t wait to get emails from iheartfaces in my inbox! WOOT!


Kiranda Mays May 29, 2011

I totally “LIKED” iheartfaces on facebooky!!


Kristin Cook May 23, 2011

Thank you!!! I never knew a lot about the aperture/shutter speed when using my flash! Can’t wait to practice 🙂


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