How to Take Great Photographs with a Flash (and a Diffuser, if you have one)

By Luke Montgomery in Art Tutorials > Photography Tips

Let’s be honest—most of the time flash photography is unflattering. Every time you take a photo with flash, your subjects have a very good chance of looking like they’re in a coal mine with a flashlight pointed straight at their face.

This is because when you use the flash on your camera, most of the light in the photo is coming from a small but very intense flash head pointed directly at your subjects.

Sure, you may need the light. . . but what you really want is well-distributed light that softly brightens your subject in an even, natural looking way.

How can I use flash properly?

If you own a basic point and shoot camera, you will be limited to just a small, built-in flash. These cameras won’t give you as much control over your flash as a higher-end DSLR, which means that your flash can often overpower your subject.

One way to improve your situation is to hold a small white piece of paper in front of your flash bulb as you take your photo. (Tissue paper works, too.) This will reduce the harshness of the flash, and diffuse the light somewhat.

If you can afford $15 you may want to purchase something like the Delta, which is a diffuser that is specifically designed for people with point and shoot cameras.

The Delta fits nicely over your camera lens and works to create a more balanced, appealing light source than a direct flash. Like all diffusers, it will soften the light hitting your subject by spreading out the light from your flash.

What if I’ve got a DSLR camera?

If you own a DSLR camera you may first want to purchase an external flash. With the extra control you will have over your flash, you should be able to drastically improve your photographs.

External flashguns allow you to point your flash away from where your lens is pointing. This is called bounce flash and it gives you the freedom to bounce your flash off of walls, ceilings, and other surfaces to help diffuse the light and avoid that “deer in the headlights” look on your subjects.

Another option for DSLR users is to use a flash diffuser mounted on your external flash. There are many to choose from, and all of them aim to do the same thing: simply, to give you better-looking flash.

I would personally recommend checking out the Omni Bounce. For only $20 you can really improve the quality of your flash with this cheap (yet proven) flash diffuser.

Of course, there are many other more expensive options out there, which may or may not work better. I use the Gary Fong Lightsphere which I picked up for around $50. Overall, I’ve been really pleased with the results.

What if I don’t have a flash or a diffuser?

If you don’t have the budget for a flash or flash diffuser, and you don’t want to fiddle with a piece of paper to diffuse your flash, there are still a few things you can do to improve your photographs:

1. Take your photos on a cloudy day, and make use out of our natural, built-in diffusers in the sky.

2. Pay attention to the lighting and shadows in a location – try to find well-lit and fairly even conditions.

3. If your pictures are turning out too dark, you can always increase the ISO setting on your camera to increase your cameras sensitivity to light.

4. You can also choose a lower aperture value to increase the amount of light hitting your camera sensor.

5. If all else fails, set up a tripod and slow down your shutter speed. This will allow more light to enter the camera so that you don’t have to use a flash to properly expose your subject.

I hope some of these tips have been helpful, and as always, make sure to experiment for yourself. The more time you spend working with flash and diffusers, the better your photographs will be. Good luck!


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