As winter approaches and the available window of light starts to shorten, we often find ourselves inside a building with our cameras and hardly any light. As the holiday season creeps up on us and the family and social gatherings get into full-swing, you might be wondering how to get photos of your family and friends that aren't so grainy or blurry.

The answer is with an external flash! 

In this article, I'm going to cover the most basic and helpful tips that will greatly improve your indoor photography of your family and friends.

Flash pictured above: Canon 580 EX II Speedlight.

Tip: When shopping for an external flash, it is ideal if you can find one that can swivel in all directions, rather than just tilt. This simple feature gives you a LOT more flexibility in creating all sorts of different lighting possibilities.

Also note: they go by a few different names: dedicated flash (these usually indicate that they come with their own shoe bracket, but don't worry about that right now), a flash gun, external flash, and speedlight.

Why shouldn't I point my flash right at my subject?

If you do this, you'll end up with very hard and unflattering light. "Hard" light means that the transition from light to shadows is very abrupt, whereas soft light has a much more gradual transition. Not only is it unflattering for your subject - a loved one, a friend, or a colleague - it'll also partially blind them, and they may end up a wee bit annoyed.

So, how do we fix this problem?

The answer is dead simple. Just twist your flash so it's pointing above and slightly to the right or left (if your flash doesn't have the ability to swivel, that's fine, just point it straight up).

Why? Because you're going to bounce the flash off the ceiling. When you bounce your flash, it has a chance to soften before falling on your subject. 

Tip: aiming your flash upwards, behind you and slightly to the side (whew!) can yield some flattering and rather slimming shadows. 

Above: example of what causes unflattering full-frontal flash, vs a flash aimed in a direction that will cause the light to fall more flatteringly upon your subject.

example of full frontal flash vs bouncing off a white ceiling

EXIF: 70mm, f/2.8, ISO 640, 1/80th second. Canon 5D Mark IV, Canon 70-200 f/2.8 IS II

(Click on the photos above to enlarge them & peek at the descriptions)

Don't be afraid to experiment!

The possibilities are endless. Why not try bouncing your flash to the left or the right for a more dramatic look? It kind of mimics the effect of an off-camera flash, which is handy if you don't want to invest in a lighting setup for that sort of thing!

Tip: The closer you and your subject are to the wall, the more intense the effect will be. Moving your subject slightly away from the wall will further soften the effect.

example of full frontal flash vs light bounced sideways off a wall

EXIF: 50mm, f/2.8, ISO 640, 1/80th second. Canon 5D Mark IV, Canon 24-70 f/2.8 IS

(Click on the photos above to enlarge them & peek at the descriptions)

Tip: The colour of the wall/ceiling/whatever you're bouncing your flash off of will affect the colouring of the photo. Ideally the ceiling or wall would be white or a neutral tone. Bouncing off of a wood ceiling, for example, can yield a rather orangey look.

Something to keep in mind: the more ambient light you have, the less obvious it'll be that you're using a flash. If it is really dark in the room you are shooting in, a way to increase ambient light is to increase your ISO and lower your shutter speed. Don't be afraid to lower your shutter speed quite a bit, even if you're capturing moving subjects (people dancing, for example) because the flash will freeze their movement. Below, I opted to increase my ISO to 1600 to help with the ambient light:

EXIF Left: 102mm, f/2.8, ISO 1600, 1/250th second. Shot on the Canon EOS-1D X with the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 IS II lens.

EXIF Right: 100mm, F/2.8, ISO 1600, 1/250the second. Shot on the Canon EOS-1D X with the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 IS II lens.

Don't have a flash? Next time, I'll be writing about using available light. Thanks for reading!

A special thanks to my sister, Ashlee, for letting me blast her full in the face with my flash for the sole purpose of writing this blog post. You're the best!

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