Whether you’re considering jumping into flash photography or you’re just getting started, you’ll soon find out that there’s much to learn. In fact, at first, it may feel like too much. That said, understanding a few basic things about the flash itself can help flatten the learning curve and remove some of the mystique associated with using flash. In this video/article, we’re going to share five flash photography tips for every photographer starting to use flash that we wish we would have known when starting out.

Video: 5 Flash Photography Tips for Every Photographer Starting to Use Flash

C.A.M.P. Framework

Before we jump into the following flash photography tips, you should know about the C.A.M.P. Framework (Composition, Ambient Exposure, Modify/Add Light, Pose and Photograph). For this tutorial, we used the framework to set up a single scene for the purpose of walking through the tips. The framework provides a process that you can use to slow down, evaluate the scene, and shoot with intention, giving you consistently better photos. You can learn more about the C.A.M.P. Framework here.

Featured Gear

Here’s a quick list of the gear featured in this article:

  • Profoto A1 Flash
  • MagMod 2 Grid
  • MagMod CTO Gel
  • Basic Scrim/5-in-1 Reflector

Topic #1: Adjustable Flash Head

flash photography tips for beginners adjustable flash

To begin, make sure to use flashes that feature adjustable flash heads. You can find a variety of flashes to suit all budgets, but it’s worth making sure that the flash you purchase includes this feature. In the event that you’ll be using on-camera flash, you’ll want the ability to turn and swivel the flash for a number of reasons, which we’ll cover below.

Myth Busted: The Natural Light Look vs. Flash Look

Photographers who are just getting into flash photography generally have two concerns. First, they don’t like the look of flash, and they don’t want to create dramatic images. We all typically start with natural light photography and we maintain a fondness for it long after we begin our journey. The truth is, flash offers more than one look, and it can be used to enhance natural light as well as make the lighting look dramatic.

Direct Flash Vs. Bounced Flash

flash photography tips for beginners direct flash

Above, you’ll find an example of using direct flash, in which the flash is aimed directly at the subject. It looks unnatural. The direct flash fills in all the beautiful natural light in the scene and now it looks flat. That is the look we commonly associate with flash. As a result, many photographers avoid using flash because they don’t want to create something that looks overly dramatic, especially if their style falls more on the natural side.

Now, you can see how a quick turn of the flash head will take us from the typical flash look to a more flattering, softer light. All you need to do is angle the flash up towards the ceiling where the light’s coming in from.

flash photography tips for beginners direct vs bounced flash examples

The difference between the two shots is absolutely night and day. The flash image is very obviously artificial light. It’s flat and doesn’t look good. The second image also incorporates flash, but the outcome is noticeably better. The bounced light looks more natural.

Why Use Flash in a Bright Scene?

For those wondering why you’d need flash at all in a somewhat bright scene, there are a number of reasons. First, using flash will give you more control in regards to the overall composition. You might walk into a location and find a great angle only to discover the lighting is less than favorable when shooting in that direction. With the addition of flash, you can control the light and shoot in any direction you please.

Another reason to use flash in a bright scene like the one showcased is to neutralize the green cast coming through the windows.

If you compare the two images above, you’ll notice that the image on the left, shot in natural light, has a green hue to it. The reason for this is that most windows in homes, hotels, and elsewhere have an energy efficiency tint over the glass and it turns the light that passes through a bit green.

Using flash will allow you to get light where you need it and clean up the color cast from the tinted windows.

Topic #2: ETTL Vs. Manual Mode

It can be tempting to go with the E-TTL (evaluative through-the-lens) automated mode when you begin using flash, but this is the part where we encourage you to push through and master manually controlling your flash. This quick demonstration will illustrate why, and it has to do with shooting with consistency and saving time in post.

The Aperture Mode Experiment

To demonstrate how the flash performs in E-TTL mode, we’ll set our camera to aperture priority mode (with no flash) and capture a series of images at different focal lengths and from varying distances between the camera and the subject.

flash photography tips for beginners aperture mode demo

The problem with the resulting images (see above) is they’re not exposed consistently. If you’re shooting a lot of images this way, then you’re creating extra work in post, at least if you want the exposure to match from frame to frame.

A similar thing happens when using automated modes in the Flash, as the flash estimates the exposure through the lens. One way that you can use the automated mode productively is to use it to gauge the first shot and then manually dial in the settings from there.

That said, here’s a look at a similar series of shots using manual mode on the flash. Each of these shots is consistent in exposure, and that really makes it a lot easier when it comes to editing the photos.

Topic #3: Autofocus Assist (aka AF Assist)

Now, let’s talk about Autofocus Assist (AF Assist). These days, most flashes include a built-in AF Assist feature. This feature might work a little bit differently depending on the flash and/or camera body that you’re using. That said, anytime you’re shooting in a dark setting, perhaps outdoors at night, and you’re having a hard time focusing, turn on AF Assist. For the Profoto flash, there’s an actual option for AF assist on the menu, but yours might look different.

auto focus assist

When you use AF Assist, you’ll notice a pattern of red lines falling across whatever you point the flash at. These red lines will help you focus, but they can also be obnoxious. If you’re working on a dancefloor or something like that, you don’t want to shine these lines in people’s faces the entire time. Fortunately, there’s another way to get help focusing. Use the modeling light on your flash (if the feature is included). You can also use the modeling light to test where your bounced light will fall before you take the shot.

Topic #4: Flash Zoom Vs. Grid

For this topic, we’re going to start putting things together from this list of flash photography tips for every photographer starting to use flash.

In the image above, you’ll find an affordable scrim and stand that you can pickup from Amazon for around $20 each. We’re going to use this setup to create a bounce and demonstrate the effects of using the zoom function on our flash. Remember, you can always use the modeling light to see where the light is going before you take the shot. In this instance, we’re going to bounce the light off of the scrim and onto our subject.

Depending on the flash that you’re using, you should have a setting to control Zoom. The zoom functionality basically is going to pull the light back to narrow or focus the beam of light (see the example on the left), or it’s going to push the light forward and widen the beam.

flash photography tips for beginners zoomed in vs zoomed out

Above, you’ll see actual examples of what it looks like when the light is pulled back, which is known as being “zoomed in,” versus when the light is pushed forward, also known as being “zoomed out.” Notice how the light tends to spill everywhere when in the forward, or zoomed out, position.

If you’re bouncing light off of a surface that is farther away, you’ll want to zoom in to send the light farther. Adversely, if you’re bouncing light from a closer distance, you’ll want to zoom out.

Enter the Grid

flash photography tips for beginners with a grid
MagGrid 2

Now, let’s compare the effects of using zoom versus using a grid. A grid is going to give you a significant amount of light control. Basically, grids take the effects of using a zoom even further by tightly funneling the light, which results in little to no light spill. Because the light is being funneled, you may need to adjust your flash power to get more light onto your subject.

So, when it comes to controlling light, you can start with flash zoom. Then, if you need more control, you can add a grid to your flash.

Topic #5: Color Temperature

Finally, let’s talk about color temperature.

Any time that you go indoors, you’ll likely run into tungsten lighting, which has a different color temperature than natural light. Light from lamps, overhead lights, and so on typically produce a warmer color temperature, around 3200 Kelvin. A warmer color temperature will lean more towards yellow and orange hues while a cooler color temperature (e.g. 5500 Kelvin) will appear more blue. To get a natural looking white balance, you’ll want to set the color temperature in your camera to match that of the lighting conditions. So, if you’re shooting indoors and the ambient light is provided by tungsten lights, you’ll want to set the white balance in your camera to 3200 Kelvin. If you’re outdoors, set your white balance in-camera to 5500 Kelvin.

Color Matching with Gels

When you introduce flash into the picture, you’ll want to color match the flash to the ambient color temperature of the scene as well. From the factory, the flash color is typically matched towards daytime sun (or 5500 Kelvin). This is great if you’re shooting outdoors, but when you move inside and need to match tungsten lighting, you’ll need to add color gels to your flash. The gel will change the color temperature of your flash to whatever color the gel is.

In the image above, we’ve adjusted our white balance in-camera to 3200 Kelvin, but we haven’t yet added a gel to the flash.

flash photography tips for beginners color match gels

To match tungsten lighting with flash, place a CTO (color temperature orange) gel on the flash. See the image above for the results.

Flash Photography Tips for Every Photographer | Final Images


When it comes to shooting with flash, this is just the tip of the iceberg. That said, these 5 flash photography tips for every photographer starting to use flash should provide a practical starting point. It helps to know right out of the gate which type of flash to get and the basic ways you should get to know your flash. From there, you can take that basic knowledge and apply it to more advanced techniques. Of course, you can find more material like this on our site and YouTube channel, as well as MagMod’s YouTube channel, where the video for this tutorial lives.