This is tip seven in a series about photography called, “Ten Things All Photo Geeks Must Know.” It is for the more serious amateur photographer who shoots with a digital camera. These ten tips are the basis for a solid foundation in photography. Once you have these skills in your proverbial camera bag you will be able to advance quickly. Some of the posts will apply to film cameras as well but I am writing this series with an aspiring digital photo geek in mind.
Photography is all about light. So what do you do when you are indoors at night and there is barely any light? You can use your on-camera flash to create great light! I have found that even some serious professional photographers have not made friends with their flash. A flash can be frustrating and mysterious to use. But I would encourage you to make friends with your flash because it truly can be a lifesaver in a very dark situation. And I would also encourage you to purchase a flash with a head that swivels.

ISO 800 1/100 at f/3.5 with the flash pointed straight at the subject.
In the photo above, the flash is pointed right at the subject, which is the easiest thing to do. I despise this light as it is harsh and always makes a dark shadow as shown by the red arrow. It generally makes a good exposure in a dark situation, but what good is an accurate exposure if the photo is not pleasing to look at? I would also open up to f/2.8 if I were shooting this. There is no point in making your flash work too hard at f/3.5.

ISO 800 1/100 at f/1.8 with the flash bouncing off a wall.
This photograph is an improvement on the first but it could be better. The photographer swiveled the flash head to the side, which bounces the light off of a wall. This kind of light is more subtle and natural. But the exposure was nearly equal to the ambient light (f/1.8 is VERY wide open). This wedding reception was lit with magenta and purple lights so that becomes the dominant light, rather than the light of the flash. So his suit is nice and white, but their skin tones are too pink.

ISO 800 1/125 at f/2.8 with the flash bouncing off a wall.
I like this light! The exposure is slow enough to allow the ambient light to filter in, but the light of the bounced flash is dominant, which leads to nice skin tones. This light is very flattering to the subject.

ISO 800 1/160 at f/2.8
Often times in dark situations there is some light to work with. In this case, the videographer had an on-camera light that was very bright. I chose to bounce my flash on the wall to my left to balance out the bright videographer’s light coming from the right. I like how it really makes the bride’s veil stand out.
Another couple of tricks to try would be to bounce the flash off of the ceiling. I don’t do this very often as it tends to expose the tops of the subjects head well, but then there is dramatic light fall off. Or, some flashes come with a white card which pulls out of the flash head. You simply extend the white card and point the flash at the ceiling. Some light bounces off of the white card which helps with the light fall off.
I will write another blog post about using flash outdoors. Believe me, it is a good thing to make friends with your flash! I love natural lighting, but every photo geek should to be able to skillfully supplement it if needed.
If you missed the sixth part of this series, read it HERE. Please be sure to ask any questions you may have! I am also always open to suggestions for photo stories. You may write me via email. If you don’t want to miss any Snapshots from the Hill posts, please subscribe to the RSS Feed.
Thanks for reading!