Many of you only have the little pop-up flash built into your camera or a very tiny flash that can be attached to the camera hot-shoe (such as the flash that comes with the Fuji X-T2). Some of you prefer not to carry a big flash around because you want to be less conspicuous or because you don’t want the extra weight. Don’t feel disadvantaged because you only have a little flash for your camera. These little flashes can be used effectively with very creative results.

For those inexperienced with using the little flash, here are some tips that may be of help, particularly as we near Halloween when the nights will be filled with all sorts of interesting ghouls to photograph.

The Basics

  1. If possible, always set the output of your flash to -2.  If you still feel that you need more light, gradually increase the output level until you get the result you prefer. By reducing the output of the flash you are diminishing the “in your face” bright highlights the flash can produce.
  2. Put a diffuser on the flash to soften the light—tape a piece of napkin or the center part of a band-aid over the flash. Using a band-aid should give the light from the flash warmer tones.
  3. Know the range of the flash, and be mindful where you stand when you take a picture. Don’t be afraid to get a bit closer to the subject if it will improve the amount of light hitting the subject. The range of the flash may be shortened if you are using a diffuser.


Fill Flash

Fill flash means your subject is lit by the ambient light, and you are using the flash to provide additional light. That extra light can work wonders with your image. Use it to:

  1. Fill in shadows on a well-lit subject.
  2. Add overall brightness to your subject, when the subject is backlit.
  3. Add a nice catch light to your subject’s eyes.


Flash as the Primary Light

If the flash is the primary source of light, your subject will be lit by the flash and the background will be lit by the ambient light.

  1. When the flash is the primary source of light on your subject, there is an important relationship you must understand about the aperture and the shutter speed. In this situation, the aperture controls the amount of flash striking the subject, the shutter speed does not. Shutter speed controls the exposure of the background, the areas of the photograph not affected by the flash. The slower the shutter speed, the greater the amount of light entering the camera and the brighter the background. The flash is so bright and fast, camera shake is not noticed and the subject appears sharp.
  2. In San Miguel de Allende I was photographing a Day of the Dead parade late at night with the tiny flash that came with my Fuji X-T1 camera. I set my ISO between 800 and 1600. My aperture was set between F/1.4 and F/5.6, depending on the depth of field I preferred for my subject.  I set my shutter speed from 1/30th to 1/4 of a second, depending on what I was shooting and the ambient light. The subjects lit by the flash appeared sharp. As long as my subjects were sharp, I did not mind that the other people in the background were not. Slowing down the shutter to bring in the background light is called “dragging the shutter”.  It can be a very effective technique.
  3. Even when the flash is the primary light on your subject and depending on the shutter speed, the ambient light may affect your image resulting in a blur to the edges of your subject. This can be used as a creative tool.
  4. Another technique I used at San Miguel, to capture movement, was to pan the action as I released the shutter and fired the flash. I set my shutter speed at 1/8th of a second when I was panning. My subject would remain sharp, with a blur of light and imagery following it.
  5. If your camera has a slow sync setting for your flash, you can turn that feature on when your camera is in aperture priority or program mode, in lieu of dragging the shutter. The problem with the slow sync setting is that you will lose control of your shutter speed settings as your camera will determine the shutter speed.
  6. In San Miguel de Allende I put my camera on a monopod in lieu of a tripod. I was able to keep the camera very steady even though I had lots of people around me moving and pushing. When I was photographing people in the square at night, I found the monopod also very useful. Although I was shooting at slow shutter speeds, I was able to keep my backgrounds relatively free of camera shake.  Of course, if I wanted the background to be more blurred  I did not use the monopod.


A little flash has its limitations, but if you understand how to use it you have the potential to unleash your creative spirit and to make some really good photographs that you otherwise would not be making.

If you are interested in reading more about photographing San Miguel de Allende or about Day of the Dead in San Miguel, here are links to my previous articles: and