pop-up flash

Shooting better portraits with the pop-up flash

The Christmas season is the time for dinners, parties and family meetings. For anyone with a camera this means portraits. To be a bit more specific, low light portraits.

With a point and shoot we’re pretty much stuck with the built-in flash while with a DSLR we can adjust our ISO so the sensor can capture more light and we won’t need to pop up our flash. But if you have a entry-level DSLR like me, you’ll soon figure out that there is a point when pumping up your ISO isn’t going to produce a good enough photo and you really have to push your flash button in order to get the light you need. Well, sometimes this can mean too much light.

As I’ve recently experienced, the built-in flash makes the faces in my photos look overexposed while the background is really dark.

Considering that I can’t afford an external flash unit right now, I had to figure out a way the get better portraits with my mediocre pop-up flash.

Flash exposure compensation

The flash exposure compensation is one way to get around the limitations of the pop-up flash. It allows us to increase or decrease the amount of light fired from the flash and consequently  get a correct exposure. In dark environments or when we are very close to our subject we should set a lower value for flash exposure compensation  to get a softer light and not overexpose the highlights.

Diffusing or bouncing pop-up flash

Because the flash emit a hard, direct light into the subject we can try defusing it by placing a thin piece of white paper in front of the flash, thus softening the light. The problem is that this will  dim the light and we can get an underexposed picture,  so we’ll need to adjust the flash compensation to get an adequate result.

Different flash modes produce different results

In front curtain sync the flash opens up automatically when the shutter button is half pressed and the flash is fired in the beginning of the exposure, freezing the motion; this will result in a bright subject but  probably an underexposed background.

In rear curtain sync the ambient light is recorded first while the main flash is fired at the end of the exposure, which causes a blur behind a moving subject.  If we mix this with a slow shutter speed  we will allow the flash to illuminate our subject and the shutter will be open long enough to let the ambient light get through, resulting in a properly illuminated subject and foreground.


And these are some of the tips that have been allowing me to get better portraits with just the pop-up flash.

Do you know any other tips to getting the most of the built-in camera flash? Please share them in the comment section below.

photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tafkabecky/3165520706/ via http://photopin.com


4 thoughts on “Shooting better portraits with the pop-up flash

  1. Feet from Shore says:

    What a great post, very useful information! I’m learning digital photography by myself and I really appreciate to read posts like this! I’ll definitely try your tricks to improve my photography. Thank you! 🙂

    This is my blog in case you want to visit and follow each other! 🙂 Have a great day!! Yael

  2. nfrodrigues says:

    Yes, absolutely! 🙂 This is why I started this blog, to meet other people with the same interests and facing the same challenges. I’m glad you enjoyed the post.

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