When to Use Flash Photography

If you are curious about when to use flash photography, I’ve listed the situations or environments where you might need them. Some are probably obvious, but others might surprise you. 

person holding black canon dslr camera

You should use a camera flash if you want to remove harsh shadows or illuminate a dark scene. The question is: when should you use a fill flash or a bounce flash? What is even the difference?

As a hobbyist photographer, I know the confusion all too well. I’ve been in your position before—clueless about flash photography.

That is why I made it a point to write this article and answer the following questions you may have:

  • When to use a flash?
  • When not to use a flash?
  • How to use a flash in photography shoots?

So keep on reading to learn the answers to these questions!

When to Use a Camera Flash?

Some photographers do not like using flash during shoots due to several reasons. However, it is one of the best camera tools available if you know when is the right time to use it.

Below are the situations when it is essential to use a flash and take advantage of it.


This one is probably the most obvious case to use a flash.

If there is not enough light in the scene, you can take advantage of a flash, whether built-in to your camera or an external unit. This tool will help illuminate the subject, resulting in brighter and higher-quality photos.

However, you don’t simply direct the flash straight on the subject as it can produce a harsh light with unflattering shadows. You should also avoid a fill flash because it might cause overexposure. Instead, try to resemble natural light as much as possible for an even look. You can do this by using a bounce flash. See more info on indoor lighting for newborn photography.

Daytime Outdoors

While not as obvious as shooting indoors, capturing photos outdoors during the daytime can also benefit from a flash. 

Of course, you probably think that you don’t need it on a bright day when the sun acts as your primary light source. But you should still consider using a camera flash to avoid the intense shadows the sun casts on the subject, which usually happens during the afternoon. 

You can also use the camera flash as a fill light to achieve a properly exposed shot when shooting backlit portraits.

Finally, you should fire up your flash unit when capturing small subjects in the shade, such as nature or insects.

Night Time Outdoors

Night photography is another scenario when you can use a flash to light up the subject.

You can set the camera’s shutter to stay open for a long time. Such a long exposure allows more light into the scene. Thus, it is the perfect time to use a flash and illuminate the subject and certain parts of the background. Once the shutter closes, the camera can reproduce cool photo effects.

However, using a flash is often the last resort due to the harsh shadows it creates. It is still best to adjust the exposure settings on your camera (ISO, aperture, and shutter speed) or get close to environmental lighting before flashing a subject at night.

Freeze Motion

Capturing a moving subject without blur requires you to shoot at faster shutter speeds. However, a faster shutter speed means that less light enters the sensor, which is not suitable for low-light situations.

Fortunately, you can still capture fast-moving objects in the dark with a flash. This tool can freeze the motion of a subject, whether it is a droplet of water or the graceful movement of a dancer, for sharper results.

Light Trails

Besides freezing motion, a flash unit also allows you to play around with the light. For instance, you can shoot at a slower shutter speed then use flash to create light trails. It is one of the best camera tools that gives you several creative possibilities.

Group Photos

When taking photos of several people, you will notice that not all of them look at the camera simultaneously. Some even move just when you press that shutter button, resulting in blurry or out-of-focus shots.

Fortunately, using a flash makes it easier to capture group photos on the go. It allows you to control the lighting and snap the picture with clarity. This way, you’ll get the task done as quickly as possible so that people can instantly get back to their business.

When Not To Use a Flash?

Although a flash offers higher quality images and multiple creative opportunities, it can also result in unappealing photos when used improperly.

Below are the situations when you should avoid using a flash.

Candid Shoots

If you want to go unnoticed when capturing photos of someone, avoid using the flash. It is so obtrusive and catches anyone’s attention in either surprise or shock, resulting in unattractive images.

Instead, try to shoot at a larger aperture and increase your ISO level. Doing so will let you take properly exposed images in low-light conditions.

We recommend using a bright aperture like f/2.8 or f/1.8 and at least ISO 800 to allow more light into the sensor.

Large Events

A flash unit is not powerful enough to illuminate subjects at least 100 feet away from you. At its maximum range, an external flashgun can only brighten scenes around 50 feet away. A built-in flash even offers less power at approximately 12 feet.

Thus, using your flash to cast light on large events or distant subjects isn’t going to cut it. It is better to set your camera into manual mode and make the most out of environmental lighting to capture the wide scene in front of you.

Concert Photography

Using your flash is generally considered unprofessional in concerts. That is because it distracts the performers and audience and disrespects the work of the lighting designer. Plus, it can lead to harsh shadows and unnatural lighting, which reduces the overall image quality.

So when shooting concert photos, it is best to skip the flashgun. Instead, widen your aperture to capture ambient lighting effects, which makes your images look interesting. You can also lower your shutter speed and increase ISO for brighter and higher quality results.


A flash casting bright light over a glass surface, such as a mirror or fishbowl, is not an attractive look. It just blinds the subject and causes a large white explosion, also known as a flash blowout.

If you want to take a picture of the glass, turn off the flash and adjust your camera settings as necessary.

Anything With a Screen

Similar to glass objects, a flash unit illuminating gadget screens or metal finishes can result in a glaring picture with harsh shadows. It is best to turn off the flash and set the camera in manual mode to avoid blowouts.

How to Use a Flash in Photography Shoots?

By now, you are probably aware of the situations when you need a flash or not. However, it is just as important to learn how to it so you can achieve better-looking images.

Below are our top tips for using the flash correctly.

Bounce the Light

As previously mentioned, a flash can result in jarring and overblown photos, especially when using it directly.

Fortunately, it is fairly simple to fix this unattractive flash photo look. You can try bouncing the flash unit off the ceiling or nearby wall. Doing so will spread the light evenly towards the subject for a more natural and soft look.

The only downside to this tip is that it requires an external flash. It is not possible with a built-in flash of your camera since it only points in one direction at the same intensity every time.

Consider a Flash Diffuser

Another way to achieve softer light is to attach a diffuser to the upper part of a flash unit. This camera accessory can either be a transparent dome, such as the Gary Fong Lightsphere Collapsible Gen5, or a mini softbox like the Altura Photo model.

Both types of diffusers can scatter the concentrated light from the flash. As such, it produces a more even illumination for natural-looking photos.

Keep Your Distance from the Subject

The closer you are to the subject, the brighter the flash can illuminate the scene in front of you. Thus, it looks more noticeable and distracting.

You might want to step back from the subject if you want a less dramatic appearance. Although this doesn’t necessarily eliminate the harsh shadows, it can reduce them to give you a less “blown-out” effect.

Use More Than One Flash

Finally, you can use more than one flash unit to cast light over the whole scene. Doing so will result in a more three-dimensional look. Just make sure to assign one as a key light, another as a fill light, and the last one as a backlight. This technique is known as three-point lighting.

However, this step requires you to operate and sync multiple wireless flash units with your camera or via a wireless transmitter. It can be pretty confusing for beginners and others who don’t have significant knowledge in the matter.


A flash is one of the best tools you can use for photography. It can illuminate the subject in low-light situations or reduce harsh shadows under direct lighting. Just avoid using it in certain conditions as it can also create less than favorable results.

But as long as you know when and how to use it, a flash can help you achieve higher quality images.