Getting the Most from a Built-in Flash

These days, cameras have built-in flash but not the so-called Pro models, even though having a small flash available with the click of a button can make the difference between a good photograph and a not-too-good one.

If you’re photographing a static subject sometimes the best way to get a properly exposed photograph is not to use flash at all and instead place your camera on a tripod and use available light. If you don’t own a tripod (why not?) another alternative is to kick up the ISO setting but if the digital noise looks like grapefruits, the next choice is flash. When should you use the built-in flash?

Using a camera’s built-in flash as the sole source of lighting for indoor people pictures will usually produce some kind of photograph but the lighting may be flat and a bit contrasty. Nevertheless the tiny flashes found in digital cameras do a surprisingly good job in delivering well-exposed pictures—if you don’t exceed the maximum flash distance. Hint: Read the manual. Under low light conditions and maybe use the camera’s red-eye reduction mode use.


A better way to use your built-in flash indoors is when there’s some ambient light to serve as fill. The flash illuminates your subject and focuses the viewer’s attention on them. In fact when you have too much ambient light indoors flash is the best way to control contrast and add dimension to the photograph. Without flash, all you’ll get is a silhouette.

Tia was eight months pregnant when I photographed her in the kitchen on my former home. There was plenty of window light but I needed to use the camera’s built-in flash for fill. Since there was so much light coming through the windows, Tia would have otherwise been a silhouette without the flash. Exposure was 1/125 sec at f/5 and ISO 800.

The downside of using the built in flash is that its so close to the lens that you can get shadows from the subject onto a wall as happened here with the subject’s left arm. The solution—if you have the space—is to move the subject far enough away from the wall that the shadows fall behind them. The rule for that is the distance should be equal to the subject’s height but that would not wok in my cramped kitchen (north light bay window notwithstanding) so I had to live with the shadows.Screen Shot 2016-03-26 at 9.13.43 AM

For some more tips, tricks and techniques on creating studio lighting effects without spending the big bucks on gear, pick up a copy of my book “Studio Lighting Anywhere” from Amazon or your local camera store.

Author: Joe Farace

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