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This post is all about taking better photos indoors using an external flash. It covers the advantages and disadvantages of using different shutter speeds and apertures.

This first comparison is between shooting on full auto or program mode. I recommend moving away from shooting in these modes as soon as possible as they’re very limiting and you won’t be making the most out of your camera.

Program mode has it’s uses when you’re just learning how to use your camera; it will let you change settings such as ISO, exposure compensation and white balance, however, relying on this will make learning to improve your photos a struggle.

As these photos are taken indoors in low light conditions, all are taken using a flash. The photo on the left was taken using full auto mode; the settings the camera chose to use were ISO 400, f3.2 at 1/60 of a second.

As you can see, the foregroud of this image is quite flat and harsh, with shadows present in the background, although it’s worth noting that this mode has produced a well exposed background through it’s choice of ISO. The image to the right, shot in program mode, is a stark contrast to the first one.

Due to the harshness of the first photo, the flash exposure compensation has been turned down in this photo to -1ev. To let more natural light in, the aperture was reduced to 2.8.

The combination of these 2 changes on program mode with ISO 100 (chosen to produce the crispest image quality) has resulted in a rather dull and underexposed photo. That being said, the face looks a lot more natural.

This second comparison shows the difference between using the apertures 2.8 and 4.0:

As you can see, the first image has a much shallower depth of field.

These photos have been taken using automatic selection focal points, which is fine when using a smaller aperture as it’ll have a deeper depth of field, but, when using a wider one (lower number), it can be shallow.

Care should be taken to make sure you’re focusing on the right points or you’ll end up with results like the top image. When shooting indoors on a single subject, I recommend a maximum aperture of 4 and, when shooting groups, 7.1.

After taking the previous photos, I settled on f4 and 1/50 of a second with ISO 100. I’ve changed the white balance to ‘Flash’ but this has little effect compared to the auto mode so I have reverted back to auto after these two photos.

This combination of aperture, allowing me to get the whole face in focus, and shutter speed, which is slow enough to allow for camera shake, is ideal for indoor shooting.

In the photos below I have used an off camera flash: the Canon Speedlite 430EX ii. In the first photo, the flash is fired face on whereas, in the second, it’s fired at a 90° angle up towards the ceiling.

The photo with face on flash has much the same effect as a pop up flash in that it flattens the images and casts a shadow. Pointing the flash to the ceiling has a much more natural, pleasing effect, although shooting close to the subject casts unnatural shadows off the facial features.

For the sake of this next experiment in different ISO’s, I’ve reverted back to using forward facing flash for the sake of continuity.

The first photo is ISO 400 and provides a good amount of detail to the background. The second photo is twice the sensitivity at ISO 800, which hasn’t provided much more in the way of detail, but has produced more noise.

The image on the left below has an ISO of 1250 which has overexposed the photo, giving it a very harsh appearance. The ISO I’ve settled for is 400 and, with a flash bouncing off the ceiling at 90°, produces the photo below on the right.

When shooting close to your subject, you should take care not to cast shadows over their face with a bounce flash.

Here I tested two more angles to provide the best results. The photo on the left had the flash fired at 120° from the subject and the one on the right is at 150°.

The photo on the right at 150° has provided the best results as it has taken the shadows and the shine from the face, appearing as though no flash has been used; the desired result when shooting with a flash.

These settings worked for me in my environment but I recommend you experiment for yourself, as different distances and sized rooms can have different effects on results.

Here is a comparison of the first and final shots:

The first photo was shot at ISO 400, 1/60 and f3.2 with a pop up flash. The final shot was taken at ISO 400, 1/50 and f.4 with a flash bouncing at 150° from the subject; these small subtle changes have improved the image in many ways.

The first thing you’ll notice is that the lighting in the final image is natural and less harsh. Secondly, the shadow in the background has gone and the background is much more in focus. The shadow from the bar in the foreground has also been removed, revealing detail to the body of the model.

The facial features are more defined as the indirect flash has allowed for some shadows to be cast where they ordinarily would be in an indoor setting.

Finally, and perhaps most subtle of all, there are no longer white ‘dots’ in the center of the eyes; a tell tale sign that a flash has been used which contributes to the unnatural look of a photo.

Here is the final image:

How to Take Better Photos Indoors with an External Flash

A note from Josh, ExpertPhotography's Photographer-In-Chief:

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josh's summary

if you're going to use a flash...

When taking photos in low light, it's natural to want to use a flash, but if you do decide to use one, there's one very important thing that you need to bare in mind:

Under no circumstances should you use a flash on your camera. This will flatten the image and make it look dull and lifeless.

It's not much of an investment to be able to fire a flash off your camera, and it doesn't have to be wireless either.


Hey I'm Josh, I'm Photographer in Chief here at ExpertPhotography, and I'm in charge of making sure that we provide you with the best content from the most knowledgeable photographers in the world. Enjoy the site :)

  • Marybeth

    Thank you so much for these tips it made a whole lot of sense to me and was very helpful.

  • Mel

    Great article! It was very instructive and it was amazing to actually see how changing the ISO,shutter speed, f-stop, and flash angle can make such a huge difference in a photo.
    Your article also taught me how to look at a photograph more critically and what to look for when evaluating a photo.

  • jimmy w

    thank you for the lesson, I get mixed up a lot .I am just a beginner,trying to learn so much,info  I will read this again , thank you

  • A

    Thank you for this tutorial. I found it thoroughly helpful, easy to understand and gave me a bit more confidence. Off to practice 🙂

  • Robyn

    Thanks! That was vetry helpful- about to invest in a flash!!

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