Flash dance

In my last photo tips post, I told you to use your flash ALWAYS when taking pictures of your children, and that, "in just about every situation, having the flash on makes for a better shot."

But Robin asked:

What if you find the flash (indoors, at night) is washing your subject out? I've tried it without a flash but then the exposure is too long to be practical and things come out all blurry. With the flash I'm taking pictures of pasty white ghosts. Help please!

Ahhh, yes...flash wash-out is the risk you run when using the flash all the time. However, it can often be avoidable...the key is you don't want your flash to be the MAIN source of light. When shooting outdoors during daylight hours, the sun is obviously the main source of light. The flash then serves to even out shadows; photographers call a similar technique "fill flash" because you are filling in those dark spaces with light.

But what if you're shooting indoors? Open up the blinds if it is during the day, turn on all the lights. Do whatever you can to get as much light on your subject so that your flash isn't the main source of light. If that isn't sufficient to reduce the wash-out, try taking a step or two back so that the light from the flash isn't as concentrated. I know, is is in direct opposition to my first photo tip which was to compose your image and then take one pace forward. However, if you find you have to take a step backwards to reduce flash wash-out, you can compensate for that by using your zoom feature to get that composition back where it had been. I wish there were a specific formula I could give you, but we are all shooting here with different camera styles and brands here; individual flashes may be calibrated differently, depending upon the manufacturers' anticipated use/target audience for that particular unit. Play around with the technique, see what works and what doesn't. And feel free to send me some of the results if you'd like me to help troubleshoot with you.

Ultimately, the sad fact is, sometimes your photos will have that washed out effect, because sometimes there just isn't enough light other than the flash. When that happens to me I shrug my shoulders and acknowledge that even the most fabulous professional fashion photographers take "snapshots."


In the Fast Lane kindly shared with me a couple of photos of her gorgeous family. I've picked one of the incredible Violet...here is the original:It is a beautiful shot as is, lovely subject, setting, and overall very evocative....but I do think we could make it a bit better. Here's the image after doing my best to Photoshop taking a step forward and adding a fill flash: Now we can see Violet's pretty face, and some of the extraneous stuff that isn't really part of the subject matter is eliminated. I really like it like this. I luuuuuuuuuuuurve window seats and keeping that context visible makes it a really sweet, cozy scene. It tells a story.

However, I am not one known for leaving well enough alone, so I went ahead and "took" the picture vertically:
It's got a totally different feel, doesn't it? I had to essentially take another step forward for this one, just because I was working in the digital world not the real world. I like this version as well; while it doesn't tell the story because all background is gone, it is a lovely photograph of a beautiful girl. We focus now more on her face, her gestures, her body language.

Send me your pictures, and happy shooting!


  1. I'm not a very good photographer...just don't have the knack. But my Dad has always been a shutterbug and persued it pretty seriously for quite a few years. He told me about the flash thing, and it really is true. Also, now with digital photos, where using film is not an issue, I take a couple different shots if I can, one up close and one far away. Invariably, I like the close-up image better.

    Great advice!

  2. It's incredible what a HUGE difference a small change can make!

    You have been awarded a "Slammin' Post Award" for your post, "One more time when I really, really had to pee!" As a person who has sudden, frequent urges to pee, this story was all too familiar!

    Come on over to Caffeine Court to claim your award!

  3. Anonymous10:22 AM

    Came by for a visit and just remembered about your auction. Is it tomorrow? Can you add my donation as a late add? I'm so sorry I forgot about it but I still would like to donate.

  4. Wow. Great tips and amazing things you are doing with just the software!
    I got photoshop elements 6 for Christmas and I'm trying to learn all I can. My next investment, a new camera :-)
    Thank you for dropping by and for your lovely comment. I love Karla's blog and I really like what I see here,too. I will be back! :-)

  5. Anonymous6:04 PM

    Thanks! I'm learning a lot from you, including that I should be breaking my personal rule of "no flash, EVER."

    I heard that Photoshop may make an online version available free sometime in the next year.

  6. Thanks for clarifying that. I was part of your very demanding public. The photo is great and I do love the close-up the best. Wow, I just started with Photohop and all I ended up with was a bunch of foul language, but I haven't given up...I guess I need to go get the "For Dummies" book.

  7. I love how you worked the picture to be able to see her face. thanks for the awesome tips.

  8. Thanks for addressing my question Christine, I'll make sure to try turning on as many other lights as I can and stepping back a step.

    I'm hoping too that my pictures will improve once I finally (not until April - aaagh!) get my new D-SLR and can stop using the little point and shoot in situations where it really isn't up to snuff. This camera REALLY sucks indoors, particularly at night. I wonder if I got a dud...

  9. Isn't technology great. Better if the user isn't too dunb to use it. I need photoshop for dummies!

  10. Anonymous9:10 PM

    I love the ability to immediately see my pictures on my digital camera when I am experimenting with composition and to have the ability to delete the ones that didn't work out (which are many). But I really miss being able to blur out the background like I could with my non digital camera. Unfortuantely, with my non digital camera I would use up a whole roll of film and get one good shot that I didn't know how I got (make sense?)

    Any options for blurring the background with a digital camera?

  11. Oh, wow! I love what you did with that picture!

    I'll definitely be using the tip about indoor flash!


Brilliant observations: