Pop-Up Flashes vs. Speedlights

Wondering when and if you should use your camera's pop up flash? Or if you should invest in a speedlight, instead? This posts dives into that question and more!

There are definitely times that a little flash really makes all the difference in both your indoor and outdoor photos (and not just in dim light.) 

Note: If you want to know more about lighting with studio strobes, check out “An Introduction to Studio Lighting.” 

So let's look at the pros and cons of both pop up flashes and speedlights. 

Pop-up Flash

Your camera may have a built-in flash, commonly called a pop-up flash.

While it does have its uses, nearly all professionals disable their camera’s pop-up flash most of the time. (That is if their camera has one, because many professional camera models do not.) 

The reason for this is pop up flashes they cast harsh shadows and give your images a flat, unflattering look. Their flash power isn’t strong enough for night photography, either.

One of the few times you might use your pop-up flash is to add a bit of fill light in outdoor photography. So let's talk about what fill flash is, and how it can enhance your photos. 

Fill Flash

Have you ever taken take an outdoor photo during daytime when the lighting is bright? As you review your photos, you'll likely see harsh shadows on your subjects face.  

This is the perfect time to use your camera's pop up flash.

It will fill-in shadowed areas, but it won’t be strong enough to wash out the photo. It can also work well to even out your lighting when you're shooting in dappled light. 

This Could Have Been Great with Some Fill Light!

When the sun is behind the subject, if you don’t use some fill-flash, you’ll end up a silhouette of your subject. This is often the case when you're shooting at sunrise or sunset. 

Silhouette is an incredible artistic effect, but it's not so good when you didn't intend on creating it!

If you took the same photo with a little fill-flash,  you’d get a clear photo of of your subject that gorgeous golden hour light behind them instead.

While your pop up flash is perfect to add in just a bit of fill light, often it just doesn't have enough power to overcome bright lighting conditions. That's why you should consider switching to a speed light instead. 

Step Up to a Speed Light

Speed lights are flash units that attach to your camera body via your camera’s hot shoe or with a cable. 

They can also be used off-camera, which makes them much more versatile than your camera's pop up flash. Used off camera, your speed light flash is triggered via a radio frequency receiver that syncs with your camera's shutter. 

Speed lights vary in how much light can they generate, and for how long. 

Most speed lights have swivel heads to bounce light off a wall or ceiling for more flattering lighting. 

You might think you need to stick with the same speed light brand as your camera, but that's not the case at all. There are some amazing brands like Yongnuo and Godox that work just as well, for a fraction of the price of what you'd pay for name-brand flashes. 

But no matter what brand you choose, remember that your flash is limited by its range. 

Flash Effective Range

 Any flash unit has only a certain amount of light that it can generate. That translates to its effective range. 

It's important to understand this concept. 

 When the subject is too far away from your flash, the subject looks too dark. But the opposite happens too. When the subject is too close to the flash, they appear washed out or too white. 

Know your flash range and keep your subject within that range. Not too close. Not too far away. Just right! 

Keep these 3 flash range tips in mind when using your speed light. 

1) Don't bother using flash during a nighttime concert or sporting event, because it won't be strong enough to light your subject from that distance. But you'll definitely annoy your neighbours in the stands! 

2) Likewise, don't stand a foot away from your subject and set the flash off in their face. Not only will you temporarily blind them, your photo will be overexposed.

3) Lastly, using flash when your subject isn’t in range can fool the camera into setting a shutter speed that’s too fast for conditions. (Especially if you're not shooting in full manual mode!) 

This results in a photo that's darker than it would be if you didn’t use flash at all.

So now you know what not to do with your flash, let's talk about adding some modifiers to diffuse the light they generate for more flattering portraits. 


Flash Modifiers

The best portrait light is diffused light because it doesn't cast harsh shadows like direct lighting can. As well, light coming directly off a flash can create white areas on your subject's face that disguises their true skin tone. 

So how can you diffuse the light coming off your flash? 

You can purchase inexpensive modifiers for your pop up flash for under $20. Or you can also go the DIY route if you have a little MacGuyver in your blood. The Crafting Nook has full instructions for a DIY pop up flash modifier you can make in 1/2 hour of less, for just peanuts. 

There are also tons of modifiers available for speed lights, including kits that come with gels to change the color of the light coming off your flash. These are also very reasonably priced.

Check them out at B&H Photo

My Favorite Speedlight

Yongnuo YN560-IV Speedlight

My favorite speedlight is a Yongnuo YN560-IV. It's priced right (currently only $81 at B & H Photo.)It features a 2.4 GHz wireless radio transmitter and receiver. It's a long range manual until capable of triggering other flashes from up to 328′ away.  

This amazing speedlight is not only a bargain, it's reliable as heck! It also can be used off camera with manual flash controllers for Canon and Nikon cameras.

My friend, Rich Coleman loves the Godox TT600 flash

Just like the Yonguo flash featured above, it can also be used with transmitters for off-camera flash. 

Godox TT600 Speedlight

When Is the Right Time to Add Flash?

For best results using flash, you need to be 100% confident shooting in manual mode. If you don't know how to create a good exposure, adding a flash won't save your photos. 

So join me for a camera training session! In just one hour, you'll have the knowledge and confidence you need to shoot in manual mode.  

To register, click the image below:

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