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Flash the Bride (She’ll Like It)!

June 22nd, 2011  |  Published in Featured, Shoot  |  3 Comments

The number one question I got from the awesome participants at last week’s Portraits with Panache seminar during the hands on shoot was:  Why do you have your flash on?  And it was a good question.  It was a cloudy day, and conventional wisdom is that cloudy days are wonderful for portraits because of the soft, even light.  So with all of that soft, even light to be had, why on earth would I use a flash?

The reason is in the pictures.  All of these photos are images I captured during the hands-on portion of the workshop.  And all of them are straight out of Canon DPP with no Photoshop enhancements whatsoever.

In this first image, I didn’t have my flash on (silly me), and this is what it looked like:

A quick chimp revealed my mistake, and for the 2nd image I turned the flash on:

As you can see, even though it is a cloudy day with soft, diffused, light, In the first image there are still shadows under her eyes.  By turning on the flash, I not only got rid of the shadows, but I also added a sparkle to her eyes…and I didn’t need a fancy Photoshop action to do it.

Here’s another example.  Flash off:

Flash on:

The fact is, I use a flash for about 90% of the photos I take.  If I’m outside, I have a flash bolted to the top of my camera.  If I have good, natural light – the kind where many photographers wouldn’t use a flash -  than the flash doesn’t take anything away from the scene (as long as I use it correctly).  But with a flash, I am not a slave to finding good natural light.  I have power over the shadows, so I am free to choose the scene that I want to shoot, confident that I can create the light I need.

The key to effective on-camera flash use, is knowing how to correctly match the flash exposure with the ambient in a way that allows the light from the flash to enhance the image without taking it over.  When I am shooting portraits, I move like a jackalope on a case of Red Bull.  So I like to shoot in AV mode so I am not constantly having to adjust to the changing scenes.  With my Canon cameras, to match the flash and ambient, I usually start by add +2/3 exposure compensation, and -2/3 flash exposure compensation.  I then adjust as needed for the scene.  And, outdoors, I shoot my flash straight on…I know you were taught that it was bad to do that, but it’s fun to be just a little bad sometimes.

You can also see by the images that I like to shoot at wide apertures.  Since the maximum flash sync speed of my camera is 1/200, I rely heavily on the High Speed Sync setting on my flash.  The first thing I do when I mount a flash to my camera is turn it on.  It takes away a bit of your flash power, but at normal portrait distances and wide apertures it works a charm.

Creating portraits that pop can often be as easy as turning on your flash!

About Jamison Wexler

Jamison Wexler has written 15 post in this blog.

Jamie is a Boston Wedding Photographer who believes every client is a rockstar.



  1. Brian says:

    June 22nd, 2011 at 9:46 am (#)

    Great article Jamie, Thanks! Super photos too.
    I wish I could have made the seminar!

  2. Susan Reilly says:

    November 11th, 2011 at 10:34 pm (#)

    Hello, very interesting and useful. Do you have a similar “formula” for portraits indoors? I find shooting Av inside can result in a too slow shutter speed. Regards. Susan

  3. Admin says:

    November 15th, 2011 at 1:26 pm (#)

    Hi Susan!

    Indoors really depends on my light source. For portraits, I still usually use AV mode, and will open my aperture and/or raise my ISO if my shutter speed is too slow. Indoors, if my light source is artificial (such as a table lamp or wall sconce) I will often add a bit of light with a video light, so that I can have a fast enough shutter speed. If I’m using a flash indoors, I am almost always in Manual mode on the camera. Hope this helps!


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