5 Different Types of Flashes for Photography 

Different Types of Flashes for Photography featured photo

There is nothing more frustrating than taking a photo in the dark. If you have ever tried to capture a subject in dimly lit surroundings or pitch-black settings, you know the struggle. Achieve great lighting and better photos when you use various flash units.

Photography flashes come in different types. The most common sort includes external flash units, hammerheads, studio strobes, and macro ring lights. 

But are you aware that there are other flash units called monolights and pack-and-heads? It’s even possible to use a built-in flash in low-light shooting situations. This article will teach you the different flash types and how they can help you capture well-lit photographs. 

5 Types of Flashes to Use for Better Lighting

Below, you will find discover the five main types of flashes for photography. You will also learn how to use them effectively so that you can take better images.

Built-in Camera Flash

Most digital cameras feature a pop-up or built-in flash unit. As its name suggests, this type of flash is built right into the camera body. 

Pop-up camera flashes are easy to use. They are extremely handy in low-light situations.

However, these built-in flash types have a limited illumination range of up to ten feet. They are not powerful enough to light up a large scene or a subject far away from the camera.

Plus, the built-in flash points in only one direction—the same as your lens. This direct lighting at your subject can result in hard shadows and harsh contrast. It can ultimately lead to unflattering images.

That said, this type of photography flash can still be useful. It is ideal for snapshots or low-light situations when taking a photo is a priority over having a perfectly lit shot.

Understanding the features of a built-in camera flash is essential when deciding whether to use it or not.

External Hot Shoe Flash Unit

Do you want to illuminate subjects further away? Or are you looking to achieve greater control over the direction and quality of light? Either way, you may want to consider investing in an external camera flash.

Also known as a flashgun or speedlight, this type of flash is small and portable. It is not constructed within the camera body. Instead, it is a separate unit that attaches on top of the camera via a hot shoe. It also allows you to fire or trigger it remotely, which allows you to use the unit away from the camera.

An external flash even features its own power source. There is no need to worry about the speedlight draining your camera’s batteries. Plus, it can produce more powerful light output compared to a pop-up flash. The guide number (GN) determines the maximum distance this flash type can cover. The higher the GN, the greater the intensity of the light. 

Overall, consider the type of photography you do and the distance you want to reach when looking for a flashgun.

Hammerhead Camera Flash

Hammerhead Camera Flash

A hammerhead flash is called so because of its unique shape. It is a separate flash unit that allows more flexibility than built-in flashes. But unlike a speedlight, this type of camera flash screws into your camera’s tripod bush via a bracket instead of attaching it to the hot shoe.

A hammerhead camera flash features a tilt and swivel head to change the light direction. Some units even offer secondary tubes that produce more intense light.

However, the main advantage of hammerhead flash guns is their position beside the camera. They are far from the lens axis, which can effectively minimize the red-eye effect on subjects. They are ultimately the top lighting choice of press and wedding photographers.

Studio Strobe Flash

A studio strobe flash is ideal if you need more control and light than what you get from external units. It features several advanced controls for more flexibility when shooting in low-light environments. Plus, it offers a modeling light that continuously illuminates your subject to see the lighting effect before capturing the image.

Studio strobes come in different types. The most common kinds are monolights and pack-and-head systems. 


A monolight is a single strobe light. It contains a built-in power supply and flash head in the same unit. The result is fewer power cables spread on the floor, making it ideal for on-location shoots.

Monolights also have a powerful light output between 300 to 500W. They also have faster recycling times, meaning you can fire the flash seconds after the first use.

The only downside is they can be slightly heavy. You will need to attach them to light stands and secure them with sandbags. You cannot also readily use them on location.


A pack-and-head strobe system is available in a battery-powered unit or a mains type.

A battery-powered pack-and-head strobe light is among the best picks for on-location shoots if you do not mind its size. It can give you decent light output to illuminate far subjects and large scenes.

Meanwhile, the mains-powered unit is the top choice for large productions and professional rental studios. This powerpack/head system offers one of the fastest recycle times and shortest flash durations. It also has a powerful light output ranging from 1200W to 3200W. All these benefits lead to an expensive and heavy strobe system. However, it can be worth purchasing for its overall power and durability.

Macro Ring Light Camera Flash

Macro Ring Light Camera Flash

The last type of camera flash to consider is the ring light system. 

It contains two parts: a shoe-mount unit and a circular external flash. The shoe-mount part connects to the camera’s hot-shoe adapter. Meanwhile, the ring-like flash fits on the barrel of the lens using screws and attachment threads. There can also be one or more flash tubes within the circular flash unit, which can be turned on or off separately. 

This ring light flash produces a soft, diffused light over the subject. It is ideal for macro or close-up photography because it allows you to shoot in smaller apertures or greater depth of field. It also eliminates hard contrast or shadows.

Macro ring lights are also popular in fashion and portrait photography. The reason is they offer a shadowy halo that adds visual interest to the photo.

Frequently Asked Questions

How to minimize flash delay?

Flash units have a recycle time. You need to wait for the flash to build up a full charge before using it again. This delay can take seconds or minutes, depending on the power and type of camera flash.

Fortunately, there are some ways to minimize flash delay and keep shooting images. For instance, you can reduce the flash’s power setting when taking close-up photos. You can also use an external flash or a strobe light to ensure faster recycle times and fewer delays. Or try connecting the flash to an add-on battery pack, which delivers fast recycling. 

What are the four modes of flash?

Similar to cameras, flash units have different modes. These settings determine the intensity and duration of the light. Below is a brief breakdown of the four main modes of flash for photography.

  • Auto – This flash mode automatically selects the flash power and timing depending on how the camera analyzes the scene in front of you. It might not be the best option if you want more exposure flexibility, such as intentional darkening the background or adding blur. However, it is ideal for beginners who are still learning how to use flash devices.
  • Front/First Curtain Sync – Also known as Flash On, it fires the flash at the start of exposure. It can stop motion and freeze the scene in front of you. The only downside is that it can create motion blur over the subject if the exposure continues past the flash.
  • Rear/Second Curtain Sync – This mode fires the flash at the end of the exposure. It freezes the subject following their movement, resulting in a motion blur behind them. 
  • Slow Sync – This mode combines flash exposure and longer exposure times to illuminate low-light environments. It works by keeping the shutter open to allow ambient light into the sensor. It is often used with rear curtain sync.

What is a TTL flash?

TTL flash stands for “through the lens.” It is another way of describing the automatic flash mode.

This flash mode automatically chooses the appropriate flash exposure settings based on the amount of light entering your camera. It is ideal when taking photos of moving subjects. The reason is it eliminates the need to adjust the settings depending on their distance.

However, TTL flash can vary a lot because it relies on the camera’s built-in metering. So if you are editing a photo series, you will likely spend more time correcting and matching the images to look like the previous ones. 


You can capture well-lit photos in low-light environments using the flash units described above. Feel free to choose from different flash types, depending on your desired results and the type of photography that you do. These include pop-up flashes, hammerheads, and studio strobes, among other models.

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