Photography tips – working on the flash

This tip is for those that have a DSLR and an external (not the pop up) flash.  I am by no means an expert on this as I just recently bought my Nikon SB-600 speedlight for my D50.  I am working on learning how to use this particular piece of equipment.  Through my research, there are a couple of basics to remember as to the settings on your camera:

  • The aperture sets the lighting on the foreground and depth of field.
  • The shutterspeed sets the lighting on the background.

If you have a smart flash system, it will automatically adjust the amount of power that is needed based on your aperture settings.  This is basically controlling the foreground lighting.  To ensure that your background is well-lit, you need to have a very slow shutterspeed.  It hard to wrap your mind around the fact that you can have a crisp image with a shutterspeed of 1/60, but since the flash is freezing the foreground image the shutterspeed is only allowing the ambient light in to light the background.

Another important point to remember is to not point the light at your subject.  Point it at a wall, a door, a ceiling, a reflector or white foamcore.  The reason why you want an external flash as opposed to the pop-up is your ability to bounce the light so it is more natural.   Also, don’t use a diffuser for inside pictures, but for outside fill-flash it is a good idea.

These are the starting point settings:

ISO 400


Pretty dang crisp for such a slow shutterspeed, huh?  I didn’t do anything to their eyes to make them pop…this is just basically the way they looked from camera capture.  When I was shooting, some pictures were lit better than others.  Bouncing off the wall to the side of them tends to yield better results and more dramatic lighting than bouncing from the ceiling.  Some shots were underexposed, so then I moved where my flash head was pointing until I got it to bounce to the right area.

You can do so much more with an external flash, but I am limited by my camera.  I can’t take the flash off-camera and use it as a “slave”.  This would give you the ability to put it in other locations and even use a light umbrella with it to make more studio type shots.

So for those of you waiting on using the external flash, jump in!  A few tips to get you started:

  1. Use the camera settings above.
  2. Try to point the flash at a light colored surface.  Try both the wall and the ceiling to see the different lighting effects.
  3. You can adjust the level of output on the flash.  Start at 0.0 and move it up and down to see how it affects the lighting.
  4. If you are underexposing, start by moving the shutterspeed down and then by moving the ISO up.

I’d love to see the results, so leave me a comment with your link!  We can learn together! 🙂


I post photography and Photoshop tips (nearly) every Saturday, so check back for more or browse my archives under Photography Tips.  I’m open to content suggestions, so if there is an area you are interested in, just leave a comment.

I also put a new page on a blog that has the photography tips that I have posted to date (same as last week’s round up tip).  I will update that going forward.

5 Replies to “Photography tips – working on the flash”

  1. I am afraid of my flash. I have a speedllite, but I’m so intimidated by it that I rarely even take it out of the camera bag.

    I will try your tips.

  2. Hooray! Flash tips! You make everything sound easy, that is why I love reading yours.
    I have a speedlite, too, and I blunder through it.

    I will post some things soon, since you are right, the short days will be upon us soon.
    I’ d love to see some more of your flash work.

    Thank you!


  3. wow, I had no idea so much went into using a external flash. Since I’ve just had the (hated) popups to work with, I haven’t given it much thought. I’m sure I’ll be back one day to read this again once I have a camera equipped with an external flash!
    The crispness of those shots with a slow shutterspeed is impressive.

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