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Turn off the flash | Family Photography Hints Tips and Advice

Any professional photographer will tell you that if they were designing a camera for family photography, the very last place they would put the flash would be on the camera, right next to the lens.

An image needs light and shade, shadow and highlights to create something pleasing on the eye and this is created by light falling on a subject or scene from several angles and almost never directly behind the camera.  If we were to walk around with a bright light on our forehead we would see the world in the same way as a camera flash does.

Compare these two shots, taken at the same time of the same scene. The first one was taken with flash and second one in the natural light.

Family photographer Surrey-2

Let me tell you why I think this is the weaker shot:

  • The scene is very flat because all the shadow created by the flash is directly behind Elisabeth and so not visible
  • There is some red eye – this is caused by the flash being reflected directly back from the retina in the eye
  • The shot has a cold, blue look – that’s the colour of flash
  • The light has a very harsh quality and is not at all flattering
  • The fire in the grate shows just one flame and no warmth
  • The shot has a “frozen moment” look to it



family photographyThis shot, on the other hand, has benefited enormously from natural light:

  • Most of the light is coming from the left as we look at it and this has created shadows that add shape, form, detail and subtleties
  • There is also a window on the right of the picture – notice the lovely light on the back of her hair and the highlight that runs down her neck and shoulder. This kind of light helps to separate the foreground from the background
  • The shot has a warm, soft colour
  • The fire looks inviting and roaring – notice how the back wall of the grate is reflecting the rich, warm colour created by the fire
  • the whole shot looks very natural.


Now it’s your turn:

Turning off the flash on your camera should be easy – most cameras allow you to do this.

Taking shots indoors without flash does take  a bit of practice. This is because you need to hold the camera very still to avoid blurring the image. It will be particularly difficult if people are moving a lot – just try to wait until they are still for a moment (not easy with a young boy, I know!)

So, grab your camera and a willing subject. Turn off the flash. Setting your camera to Sport mode, if you have such a thing, might help. Ask your subject to stay still while you practice taking shots. Ask them to look towards the main light in the room, as I did in the shot above. Experiment with different positions and different light. Review each shot on the camera as you take it and learn from what you see.

Does that look better?

Did you enjoy the experience? Would you use this in some of your family photography? Do let me know what you think.

And, most of all, enjoy yourself . . .


This post is a one in a series on Family Photography hints, tips and advice that I will be posting in the run up to Christmas. Please add a comment here or on my Facebook page if there is any aspect of your photography you’d like some help with.

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