To Flash or Not to Flash – Photography Tip

To Flash or Not to Flash, that is the question we as photographers often must ask ourselves before we make an image. I will admit that I typically do not use flash (for my wedding work) unless we are at the reception. I usually do not even mount a flash on my camera until the reception. Why? First and foremost I do not want to draw attention to myself. For the most part, flash defeats the purpose of being “Unobtrusive”. Secondly, I love using the available light to retain the ambience of the given situation.

BUT… (There is always a BUT.) I like to use flash to enhance the emotion of the scene or when I need to freeze the subjects motion.

Below are two examples of using flash and not using flash. You will see the image, the camera settings, any post-processing and the reason I chose to use flash or not.

*Note about the images:: I captured the below images this past weekend, while in New York City. I was assisting my good friend and phenomenal photographer (& person), Kenny Kim. Kenny and I team up on average, once a year to document each others weddings. We always have a great time and keep each other motivated throughout the weekend.

Image #1.
Scenario: Grace and Yohan make their Grand Entrance into the reception. The action was moving very fast, so I knew that I would want to freeze them coming through the bridal party pathway. Here I used on camera flash pointed directly at them. I used a higher ISO, slower shutter speed and Rear Curtain Flash Sync.

New York Wedding Grand Entrance

New York Wedding Grand Entrance

Photography Tip: Rear Curtain Flash Sync – is a flash setting on most camera bodies that tells the flash to fire, just before the shutter closes. This creates an effect that freezes your subject and gives the visual blur effect on the background. If you use front curtain sync, you may see some of the motion blur lines on your subjects.

Camera Settings:
On Camera Direct Flash:
Lens: 28-70 2.8
ISO: 1600
Shutter: 1/30
Aperture: 3.5

Color Corrected
Resized for web
Sharpened for Web

Image #2:
Scenario: During the toast celebration, I was focused on Grace and Yohan to observe and react to their reactions. I really wanted to capture beautiful reaction images, without drawing attention to myself with my flash. When toasts or speeches are given, it is important for me to be quiet and unobtrusive. Thankfully to a very fast 85 1.4 lens and my Nikon D3 set to ISO 3200, I am easily able to achieve this goal. I took a series of images here, but this image in particularly is one of my favorites. The room was very dark, but there was just enough ambient light on the bride and groom to capture this without the use of flash.

New York Wedding Toast reaction

New York Wedding Toast reaction

Camera Settings
Available Light
Lens: 85 1.4
ISO: 3200
Shutter: 1/50
Aperture: 2.2

Converted to Grayscale
Resized for Web
Sharpened for Web

It is important to be able to determine when to use flash and not to use flash. Everybody’s style is unique, so it is based on personal preference. I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments. If you think someone will benefit from this information, please send them a link to this post. I will also note that it is vital to understand your equipment (flash, lens and camera body) inside and out. You need to be able to change on the fly, make quick decisions and know what your equipment is capable of. If you are shooting a variable aperture lense (3.5-5.6) on a camera that only goes to ISO 800-1600 the second image will not yield the same results. Study your equipment and practice, practice, practice…

Comments 3

  1. Excellent info and examples! I love that you included your thought process along with the settings and post-processing info. Your b&w images are always gorgeous! What do you use to create them? Thank you again David for sharing!

  2. Hi Missi!
    Thank you for your kind words. I am glad you found it useful. For my B&W images I typically just convert the image to grayscale in Lightroom 2.0. I use the Grayscale mixer adjustment tools to enhance the underlying colors I want to pop (ie, skin tones) and adjust my contrast. Sometimes I use Silver Effex 3.0 which is the best film simulator b&w tool out there (IMHO).


  3. Hi David,
    For some more low light wonders, be sure to watch the film “Barry Lyndon”. It is amazing what the cinematographer captured with f.7, that’s F-POINT-SEVEN, lenses way back in 1975. Some scenes are lit with only 3 candles!
    Keep up the good work.

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