Creating Light When None Is Available

We LOVE having Katrina share her photography expertise here on The Daily Digi. Our readers have told us that they love these posts too. Thanks Katrina!


image“I eat, breathe, write and teach Photography! My camera is my most often worn accessory. I am a mom with a camera who feels compelled to capture my son’s life. I was frustrated by my search to learn how to use my camera and knew I had to pass on the knowledge I gathered to help other moms capture their favorite subjects. I started out with a film SLR years ago,on auto. Moved to a dSLR in 2002 on auto and in 2005 finally decided I needed to know what TV actually stood for!”

Katrina teaches photography classes at Get It Scrapped and you can find her at CaptureYour365.


Are you finding capturing your memories more difficult in the darker days of January? With less sun available in the Western Hemisphere, it may be time to use your flash. Does using your flash make you shiver in fright? Were you given an external flash and you just don’t know what to do with it? Are you afraid of that washed out, frightened look your subjects get when you do use it?

Knowing where to start with your flash can be daunting. There are many options! Let’s give it a try though.

Know that each situation we use our flash in will require a test shot. The test shot will give us a starting point to adjust our lighting. You need to start somewhere with flash. This is one place you can start. It isn’t the only way. You will get the best flash results when shooting in Manual Mode, leaving your flash on it’s TTL (through the lens) setting.

  1. Set your camera to Manual Mode (M).
  2. Choose spot metering.
  3. Choose an ISO of 400.
  4. Set your shutter speed to 1/125th of a second.
  5. Set your aperture to f/5.6.
  6. Turn your flash on.
  7. If you are using your onboard flash, push the button typically on the left front of your camera with the lightening bolt symbol.
  8. If you are using an external flash:
    • Set it to ETTL or TTL (typically the default setting)
    • Adjust it to bounce off of a ceiling or wall. Most external flashes will swivel in multiple directions.
  9. Shoot.
  10. Check your histogram. Ideally, look for a spread of data from left to right. Stacked data on the right hand side indicates too much light. Stacked data on the left hand side indicates too little light.


Now that you have your test shot, you can adjust according to your histogram data. Is there two much light on your subject? Too little? To adjust the light on our subject, we will make one of three modifications:

  1. Change ISO, aperture or shutter speed.
  2. Adjust flash compensation or flash power.
  3. Adjust your distance between the subject and the flash.

Change ISO, aperture, or shutter speed: adjusting any one of these will bring more light into your frame.

I typically begin by adjusting my ISO. When using your flash, remember the narrower the aperture, the more recycle time the flash will need. Shooting with a wider aperture (smaller f/ number) can decrease your recycle time and bring in more light.

If you want a brighter background adjust your shutter speed. The slower your shutter speed, the brighter your background will be. Slowing down your shutter speed to lighten the background is referred to as “dragging the shutter.” Be cautious of slowing it down so much that you register movement in your subject.

Maximum Synch Speed refers to how fast your shutter can open and close while still registering the flash. For most cameras this setting is about 1/250th of a second. When using your flash, most cameras will override your shutter speed if it is set faster than the maximum synch speed.


The Flash Was Bounced Above And Slightly In Front Of Him. I lowered the ISO and bumped the flash power up. The histogram above is for this photo.

Adjust flash compensation or flash power

If you are shooting with a built in flash, flash compensation is the easiest way to change the flash intensity. Located on your camera (typically looks like a lightening bolt with a +/- next to it), you can raise this in third stop increments to increase the light or reduce it in 1/3 stop increments for less.

If you are shooting with an external flash, adjust the flash power on your flash. Most flashes can be raised or lowered in ½ stop increments. If you are bouncing your flash off of the ceiling, it is often necessary to raise your flash power.


I bounced the flash off of my husband’s white shirt as he stood beside me. A white surface is always the best choice when bouncing your flash.

Adjust the distance between your subject and the flash.

This is, without a doubt, the simplest technique to change your flash intensity. Walk a few steps back or a few steps forward and your light intensity changes. Simple fix. Grab your flash, give it a try. See what you find. Getting comfortable with using your flash can be tricky, but the more you play, the easier it will become!

Have fun!