Flash photography tips: How to fix your photos using flash

5 reasons why using flash in photography can help you take better pictures.
Three people posing for a picture during a celebratory party. Taken with Canon EOS R8, RF15-30mm F4.5-6.3 IS STM and Canon Speedlite EL-10.

Flash is an essential tool for any photographer - we use it to light up the darkest of scenes, to balance harsh light and as a creative choice. Your Canon camera might have a built-in flash, but do you know when and how to use it? Does it make sense to invest in an external flash for your photography journey? See five reasons why and how to use flash to help you fix common photo issues, especially while taking portraits and working with tricky light conditions.

1. Problem: Outdoor portraits in harsh light – Solution: Outdoor fill-in flash

A portrait of a woman in a garden, taken without flash, with the brim of the hat casting shadow on her face.
A portrait of the same woman taken with flash, making her face evenly lit.

No Flash

Fill-in Flash

Using flash outdoors is sometimes useful because it ‘fills in’ the shadows cast on people’s faces by strong sunshine. It’s a good approach for portraits, and can also help you see people more clearly when they’re backlit. You might sometimes see a wedding photographer shooting with flash in this way. Outdoor fill flash photography allows them to keep the camera settings for indoor and outdoor portraits roughly the same, making it easier and faster to capture sharp images.

A portrait of a man in front of the garden, taken without flash, with the subject much darker than the background.
A portrait of the same man taken with flash, making the subject evenly lit and the light levels in the foreground and the background matching.

No Flash

Fill-in Flash

By using the built-in or external flash for outdoor daytime portraits, you can help ensure the subject is lit evenly and the level of light cast on them matches the one in the background, especially on a sunny day.

2. Problem: Indoor portraits with bright background – Solution: Indoor fill-in flash

A portrait of a woman sitting in a room in front of a balcony door, taken without flash, with a visible shadow making her look darker than the background.
A portrait of the same woman taken with flash evenly lighting her while keeping the background the same.

No Flash

Fill-in Flash

Fill-in flash can be used indoors too. It’s especially effective when you have a back-lit subject: the flash will light up their face without affecting the background.

This way the subject is clearly visible even if the light levels inside and outside are significantly different.

3. Problem: Portraits with uneven lighting – Solution: Bounce flash

A portrait of a woman holding balloons, taken with direct flash, making the scene look one-dimensional.
A portrait of the same woman taken with flash bounced off a wall making her face and the whole scene lit more from one side.

Direct Flash

Bounce Flash off wall

Sometimes using the built-in flash as the only light source can produce a harsh result. This is because it’s lighting your subject directly from the camera. A separate add-on Speedlite flash, like the Speedlite EL-10, can be angled to bounce flash off the ceiling or a wall – creating a greater spread of light making it more flattering for the subject as well as giving you control over the direction the light comes from. Portrait photography with flash can especially benefit from this technique.

A man taking a picture with a Canon camera and Speedlite EL-10 flash of a woman sitting on the floor surrounded by balloons. He has the camera tilted for a vertical shot.

Speedlite EL-10 has a horizontal and vertical bounce available, and a versatile power range of 1/1 to 1/1024 for a softer look.

A picture of a woman sitting on the floor surrounded by balloons. Taken on Canon EOS R50 with Canon Speedlite EL-10.

Plus, get that extra sparkle in the eye thanks to a catchlight panel.

4. Problem: Blurred photos of a moving subject – Solution: Freeze motion with flash

A blurred picture taken without flash of a woman carrying a birthday cake in a darker room.
A sharp picture of the same woman carrying a birthday cake with flash lighting her face and making the whole scene sharp.

No flash

With flash

The bursts of light from your camera flash are so fast that they can be used to freeze motion. Set your camera to a shooting mode other than Av (which is best used for fill-in flash) and fire away. You’ll see the best results in low-light scenes.

An image of a woman skateboarding, where the graffitied brick wall in the background has been blurred while the skateboarder remains clear. Taken on a Canon EOS RP with a Canon RF 24-105mm F4-7.1 IS STM lens at 26mm, 1/30 sec, f/16 and ISO100, with a Canon Speedlite 600EX II-RT.

A simple flash of light from a Canon Speedlite can open up a whole world of innovative action photography techniques. You can choose to freeze the action, shoot for motion blur, or capture both in a single frame.

5. Problem: Built-in flash doesn’t reach the subject – Solution: An external flash can increase range

A portrait of a woman in a garden at night taken with built-in flash, making the whole scene look still dark and the subject not clearly visible.
A portrait of the same woman in a garden at night taken with external Seedlite flash, making the whole scene much brighter and the subject evenly lit and clearly visible.

Built-in flash

External flash

The range of your camera built-in flash is limited to about 3m, but an add-on external flash, such as the Speedlite EL-10 or Speedlite EL-5, greatly extends this.

While R System cameras, like EOS R100, EOS R10 and EOS R50, have a built-in flash reach of 6m, the light from external flashes, like Speedlite EL-10, can reach a subject as far away as 40m - or even 60m in case of Speedlite EL-5.

What these Canon flash techniques show is that flash is not just for lighting up darkness, but compensating for all kinds of light conditions. Whether you have a built-in camera flash or choose to invest in an external flash, keep experimenting with how it could improve your photography.

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