How to get great images when Natural Light Isn’t Available

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Sometimes, we just can’t get the pictures we’d like with the available light, so we need some help! Here are some tips on flash photography. 

I am a HUGE lover of natural light, I love the beauty that the sun brings to my images, but when it’s late at night, great natural sunlight isn’t available. Though my camera can handle a higher ISO (1600 or so), the light from lightbulbs just doesn’t give me what I want, so I’ll pop on my flash.   I know there are many bloggers out there who are photographing product in the evening when the kids are in bed, its quiet time, and the natural light is gone. I used to photograph weddings, I had my flash waiting in my bag for the reception, when most of the lights go out for the dance time. My flash helped me capture all those fun dance moves!

1. Dedicated flash 

 I show people at my workshops that my Canon 5D doesn’t even have a pop up flash–not even an option for me! I have a hot shoe at the top of my camera ready to receive my Canon speedlight 580 EX flash when I need it. Sadly, I know I don’t use it to its full potential. I just pop it on, turn it ON and shoot.

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Before this, I had a 430 flash, but found it wasn’t as powerful. The cool thing about the Canon 580 (and comparable Nikon SB 800) is that it can be used as a slave, or off camera light, if you ever do set ups with backdrops and studio lighting. The dedicated flash also has a swivel top up and down and right and left. When I use it, I am often bouncing that light off of the ceiling. Seems like an odd concept (did to me at first) but light actually bounces! Bouncing diffuses the light a bit so it isn’t so harsh. It really is prettier. Below is a shot taken of me at a wedding in 2007. Lightsphere diffuser purched atop my flash.

I purchased a lightsphere (clear object on top of the flash above) a few years ago that works as a diffuser. It is an attachment to the front of my flash that softens the harsh light.  In my example below, image

#1 I bounced the light off of the low ceiling straight up. It bounced back down in an uneven patter.

#2, I bounced my light at an angle and it was prettier, but still dark. Image

#3, I used my lightsphere and put the diffuser cap on and pointed it straight towards my subject for nice pretty light.


Below is an image from a wedding reception. It’s dark everywhere with a slight ambiance lighting. My flash (with diffused lightsphere attached) created just enough light on the couple to capture the sweet moment.

2. Natural Light Lamps

 These lamps are used to simulate natural light. I have never used these, but have heard great things about them. This seams like a great option to use for those bloggers wanting to take pictures in the evening and show off their product well. They provide controlled light during the day or night. (Lots of people who live in gloomy cities also like these to boost their mood that comes from dreary days–has been recognized as an effective therapy in treating Seasonal Affective Disorder). They are fairly affordable starting at $40 depending on the lamp.

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Here are a few options I found.

3. Lightscoop the lightscoop is a little attachment that can be placed on top of your pop up camera flash to diffuse the light upward. I do have my 20D that I will use the pop up flash when its all I have, and for $30, I’d say its worth a try…examples on their site.

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Another time when it’s helpful to use the flash, is if you have a group of people under a tree and the sun comes shining through and casts awful shadows of tree limbs onto the faces of your subjects. The flash will help even the light.

Lastly, here is an image I took in a clients backyard. I did the majority of the photo session using the natural light, and looked for the best pockets of great light. At the end, they wanted a few on their playscape, but the lighting was awful with the noon light shining through a tree. I pulled out my flash, and was able to soften the shadows from the tree.  I wish I had a before picture that showed the shadows, but I don’t.  If you look closely, you can see them lightly on their faces, but if I didn’t  point it out, it wouldn’t be as noticeable. Though I still prefer the overall look of the natural light, it was a great option to photograph in a spot the clients really wanted.

I hope this helps you see there are different options when it comes to photographing people or things at night, or less than desirable lighting. I would love to hear feedback on these if you have it!
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Comments

  1. Kristen! I like your blog so much. You taught me verything I know about photography…and even if I am still clumsy at it, I like how my photos start looking. When I take nice photo people usually tell me how photogenic the subject is…but I know it’s partially your gift! 😉 hopefully they will soon notice my progres..hahaha

  2. Kristen! I like your blog so much. You taught me verything I know about photography…and even if I am still clumsy at it, I like how my photos start looking. When I take nice photo people usually tell me how photogenic the subject is…but I know it’s partially your gift! 😉 hopefully they will soon notice my progress..hahaha

  3. Thank you so much for this post!!!! You always share so good photography tips!! I was wondering if you could help me with a problem I have.
    I try to take pictures manually as much as possible, whenever I use a flash (only have a pop-up flash) I have a harsh shadows behind the person. Is there a way to solve this problem? I don’t see any shadows on all your pictures taken with flash. Do you just use photoshop to get rid of them or is there another method?
    Thanks so much!

    • Hi Agnes. Jumping in for Kristen but yes, it’s becasue of the pop-up flash. The direct flash from a pop-up causes the shadow. Kristen is bouncing or diffusing her flash to avoid the shadows. Try the Lightscoop she mentions above. I have heard good things about it! Good luck! 🙂

    • Kristen Duke says:

      What Jessica said! Bouncing a flash above instead of directly at the person helps diminish shadows. This only works with a relatively lower ceiling, if you are in a gymnasium or something, there isn’t anything to bounch the light off of, but the diffuser pointed directly at the person helps that, too.

      • First let me say how appreciative I am of your blog. You’re an angel I disguise to those of us starting out. I went to the website linked on your page to purchase the diffuser you used in the picture but I cant find it. Can you give me the name of the exact one you have? Thank you!

  4. Great tips! Pinned!

  5. For the outside image on the playscape where did you point your flash and what mode did you use? I have a 580 EX too and I am having issues with it. It’s probably me but when i shot Nikon and used the SB600 flash it was perfect evey time in ETTL with whatever mode I used. My 580 EX seems to be dark most of the time indoors and I’m not sure what I am doing wrong. What settings do you use indoors? What mode? THANKS KRISTEN!!!

    • Kristen Duke says:

      Jessica, I don’t have a great formula with my flash. I just turn it on in ETTL. I put my ISO at about 400, aperture depending on what I am shooting, and if its too bright, I just crank up my shutter.

  6. Thanks for the tips! I have a speedlight but would love to try that lightsphere.

  7. Thank you so much for sharing this. Sadly, it came a little late for my first wedding. I have the Gary Fong lightsphere but I never use it. I used my flash at the wedding but sometimes it turned out and other times it was still dark, much like the first shot of your daughter. I think I will practice now with my flash and lightsphere on my little chickadees so that I can figure it all out. Thanks again for all of the tricks you share. I really appreciate them.

  8. Just stumbled upon your blog and you are very inspirational.
    I’m just starting up my own business in photography in the UK and it’s tough. You have given me lots of guidance. Thank you! Love your work.

Trackbacks

  1. […] In my opinion, when a photographer upgrades from one camera body to the next, a majority of the reason why is because of ISO capabilities. They want to capture the ambient light without using a flash, and can do so by cranking up their ISO to 2000 or more.  If you aren’t sure yet what ISO is all about, check out my book, and  you’ll come away understanding the exposure triangle better with ISO, aperture, and shutter speed and how they work together to give you the best picture. In a nutshell, beginner camera bodies aren’t equipped as well to handle darker lit situations, and even cranking up your ISO to 1000 or higher doesn’t help as much because the beginner camera body can’t handle a higher ISO as well as a more pro camera body.  You will come away with grainy images, less crisp. If you are taking picture outside when the sun is out (in the shade–my favorite photography conditions) then you will be just fine with a lower ISO. And if you are inside and it’s dark, pop on an external flash and bounce the light, or a lightscoop to bounce the on camera flash. If it’s dark or night, I generally use a flash and bounce the light. […]