Five On-Camera Flash Tips
You shouldn’t use your on-camera flash. Here’s what to do when you have to
|This Article Features Photo Zoom|
You should not use your on-camera flash. There, now that we got that fundamental rule established, let’s talk about breaking it. Sometimes you actually want to shoot with the on-camera flash. Sometimes you might just need to shoot with on-camera flash. Here are five tips you can use to make on-camera flash work great for your photos.
1. Embrace it. Since on-camera flash tends to produce a harsh, in-your-face, "bucket-of-light effect," go with it. Shoot things that work with that aesthetic. You'll notice that a lot of fashion photography is shot this way, as it creates an authentic, off-handed, snapshot look that also has a few benefits—namely, an overexposed, on-camera flash blows out detail that can simply make skin look fabulous. So, if you're going to shoot with an on-camera flash, shoot things that might lend themselves to that particular look.
2. Turn your camera upside down. This is a tip that applies primarily to point-and-shoot cameras where the flash is built into the camera and only an inch or two from the lens. By turning your flash upside down you can alleviate problematic shadows in portraits that sometimes appear to make dark eye sockets or overly dramatic noses. The slight underlighting approach will fill in the shadows in deep-set eyes and create a slightly different flash pattern that just might be perfect in certain situations.
3. Tilt your flash toward the sky. If you're working with a hot-shoe-mounted flash, chances are good that the flash has some sort of swiveling mechanism that allows you to point it in directions besides straight at the subject. So, if you can point your flash upward—toward, say, a low white ceiling—you're going to create a much softer light source than if you're using the bare flash from right on the camera. This tip, of course, requires that you're working indoors in a location with a ceiling—preferably white—in order to go from a small harsh source on camera to a large broad source overhead. If you're outdoors or in an area where the ceiling is simply too high to do any good, you can still tilt your flash straight up. Simply back it with a white card or silver reflector (either store-bought or homemade) to bounce the flash forward toward your subject. It won't be quite as soft as the overhead-only approach, but it will look much less harsh than the typical unmodified, on-camera approach.
4. Gel your flash. Even if you don't twist or tilt your on-camera flash, you can still modify it. The use of colored gels is a great way to create a unique mood from on-camera flash. In the old days we'd get sample packets from Rosco and Lee, both of whom are gel makers, and simply use those samples as the perfect flash-sized modifiers. Today, you can either cut gels from larger sheets or purchase flash-specific gels in order to go from plain white to warm orange (to emulate a sunset, for instance) or a light pink (which might improve skin tones) or a deep blue gel (to create a dramatic special effect). All of this is as simple as taping a gel to your flash and exposing it properly to create a deep hue or a subtle color shift—whatever is appropriate for the scene you're photographing.