Electronic flash can be a lifesaver. Every smartphone, compact camera and entry level DSLR has one, giving frame filling light when needed. And flash can allow great photographs to be taken in challenging light, or to create the perfect lighting conditions to bring the most out of a subject. If you’ve ever spent time in a photographic studio you’ll know just how important artificial light can be, and how transformative it can be.
But when you’re starting out, it’s often best to leave your flash at home. While it’s true early flashes required manual input from the photographer to ensure they were exposing properly, most modern electronic flashes are blessed with a computer brain that takes all of the guesswork out of the picture.
Yet many of these modern flashes require a camera with an equally sophisticated brain. If you’re using a no-frills manual camera – the very best way to learn – then you’re often only limited to the camera’s X-Sync speed, which is often far slower than the camera’s fastest shutter speed. So if you’re not getting the best out of flash units – the kind of control that you would with a serious DSLR, for instance – it makes sense to concentrate instead on how to let the light around you work for you.
There are, however, ways you can get by with out flash – and most won’t require buying any more equipment.
Use a wider aperture. Opening up the aperture will let in more light, allowing you to use faster shutter speeds. And the added bonus is that with a wider aperture you’ll be focusing attention on your subject.
Use a slower shutter speed. The other side of the equation, and useful if you want to have more of the scene in focus. As long as your shutter speed is higher than your focal length (eg 1/60 when using a 50mm lens) then that shouldn’t be a problem.