Photography 101 – Adjusting Your On-Camera Flash

There are two types of people in this world. Those who take every single picture with their camera flash on, and those who would never ever in a million years use it.

Okay, I totally just made that up.

It does seem to me though, that a lot of people splurge on a DSLR and never take advantage of natural light. They shoot every picture on auto, and every photo looks like the person is a deer in headlights.

If you are the opposite, and firmly believe you will break out in hives if you ever turn that flash on, there is a way to utilize your flash, with a minimal amount of overexposure and frightening shadows.

Today we are going to learn about our on-camera flash. I am going to teach you when to use it, how, and why, and when you can just adjust the exposure compensation to adjust the light in your photos.

Did you know you can adjust your flash output? Yup. You can totally adjust how powerful the light is coming from your flash.

Adjusting your on camera flash can be useful when you need just the right amount of light. You don’t want the deer headlights look, but you don’t want blurry pictures either.

But, before we begin learning how to adjust our flash, you first need to find your flash adjustment button. I have a Nikon, and mine is on the left side of my camera, just below the pop-up flash.

To adjust my flash I need to first push my flash button. This will make my flash pop up. (A side note… most camera’s will only let you adjust the flash output if you are not in auto mode. Turn your dial from auto to P mode.) To adjust my flash I then push the same flash button again, and hold it down.

While holding the flash button down, I now turn the dial located on the front of my camera. This adjusts how powerful or weak my flash is. (Aka: flash output.)

I can adjust the output from minus (-) 3 to plus (+) 1.

(Remember, every camera is a little bit different. To adjust your flash the dial or button may be in a different location. Pull out your manual if you are having a hard time figuring out how to do it.)

Now that you know how to change your on camera flash adjustments, let’s try it with some pictures.

Here is a scale I wanted a picture of, but as you can see by the natural light in the late afternoon, it’s too dark.

So I popped up my flash and left it on auto.

The flash is too bright, so I turned my dial to minus (-) 3 and took another picture with the flash.

As you can see, the flash is not as strong, and my subjet is not as washed out. You are still going to get harsh shadows with an on-camera flash since the light is so direct. A great way to minimize this is to still adjust your flash strength, but use something to diffuse it as well.

My favorite tool for diffusing is index cards. White index cards are perfect for soft diffused light, and colored index cards can also be used to give your subject a soft hue.

All you need to do is hold your paper diffuser 3-4 inches directly in front of your flash, on top of your camera lens.

As you can see below, my on-camera flash is not as harsh, and has a soft blue glow to it. Colored index cards also come in yellow, green and pink; all colors that can help warm up or cool down your subject.

Now that you know more about using your on-camera flash, here are a few more photography terms to help you learn more about lighting:

A fill flash is a photographic technique used to brighten deep shadow areas. typically outdoors on sunny days, though the technique is useful any time the background is significantly brighter than the subject of the photograph, particularly in backlit subjects. Try it this way: Bob comes over to your house.  Bob stands in front of a window and you take his picture. The window looks fine, but Bob is too dark. You use your flash to “fill” in the dark shadows so Bob looks spiffy in his photo.

Ambient light means available light. Though often referred to as indoor lighting, it can be available light outside as well.  When it’s is in the evening and you are reading under a lamp, that lamp is providing the ambient light in the room.  If you did not have any kind of flash for your camera, you would use ambient light to take your photograph. If you have an older camera phone without a flash, you are taking photos with ambient light.



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About the author

Natalie Wright

Natalie Wright is a contributing writer at Organized Mom and Tech4Moms. You can also find her DIY blog online at


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