The electronic flash ! A necessity?

I just did a blog on “Understanding Light”, and realize, of course, we need to cover this subject as well. The big question that should be asked as we talk about electronic flash is:

Natural light vs flash – which is better?

Lighting is key in all areas of photography, but for portraiture you have to approach it with extra sensitivity. Light needs to flatter the subject more than in any other genre and it’s usually very noticeable if the highlights and shadows are misplaced, or if the intensity and color balance of the light is incorrect. But is natural light better than artificial light for portrait photography? 

As you’d expect, there’s never a clear cut answer. While the best flash or strobe might work brilliantly for one portrait photographer, of course what lighting gear you use – if any – depends on the environment, as well as the look you want to achieve.

Some photographers are scared to use flash (thinking that it will overcomplicate their setups) whereas others find their workflow wouldn’t be the same without out. Still, we’re here to weigh in on natural light vs flash. Read on to find out more.

Photo by Awar Kudish / Unsplash


We’ve already written tutorials on (See here: https://123photogo.com/2022/03/21/flash-photography-for-2022/, and in many circumstances, flash can transform an image into something magical, vastly increasing the contrast, depth and color fidelity.

Without flash, the photographer is reliant on natural light, which can be difficult to control. It is not possible to adjust the color temperature and intensity of sunlight, we don’t have the freedom to reposition the light source, nor the direction and angle of the shadows as they fall across our subject.

The key to dramatic flash images is achieving a balance between natural and flash light. Sometimes, it’s better for the flash to dominate – in other cases, it should assist the ambient illumination.

There are times when outside conditions are not quite right for the style of image you want to create. In these cases you can use flash to dominate the scene, providing the majority of the main light on the subject.

This is useful when you want to artificially change the time of day – faking a nighttime effect for example. The aim is to alter the light ratio, so that changes in the ambient light have a reduced effect on the appearance of the subject – if the sun comes out you might need to lower the overall exposure, but it won’t change the distribution of highlights and shadows on the subject.

(Image credit: Peter Fenech)


Flash is a tricky aspect of photography to learn. If used incorrectly, the artificial light can spoil the ambience of an image, introduce harsh shadows and highlights and bring out unwanted textures. It can also create unnatural color casts, draining the life and energy from the subject of an image. For these reasons, newcomers to photography decide quickly that flash should be avoided, except as a last resort. 

Use too much flash and you will bleach the subject’s skin, which will create distracting hotspots and make them seem inorganic – not an attractive look! 

Conversely, fail to use enough flash, or place it at the wrong angle and you will introduce deep shadows where they shouldn’t be. Light picks out the contours of the subject’s face and form, so well-considered light placement is essential to make them appear natural, and to complement their body shape and facial features.

Here’s another article I did on flash photography, 7 ideas of how to use your flash: https://123photogo.com/2022/03/23/7-ideas-of-how-to-use-flash-to-make-your-photos-better/

(Image credit: Future)


This is where natural light can be a huge advantage. On overcast days, the clouds act as a gigantic softbox, diffusing the light from the sun and spreading it widely. This provides silky, wraparound light, which is even, meaning no bright spots of clipped highlights or deep shadows under the eyes occur. 

Sunlight is highly directional for most of the day, since the sun’s position is always angled down or sideways on the subject. Moreover, the lighting from the sun is highly predictable. Yes, it is always possible for the light to change, due to weather changes, which can also radically alter the style of the image, but under any given condition the sun will never fail on you. 

You will never have to attend to blown bulbs in your strobe or flat batteries in your speedlight. Power will hardly ever be an issue. Furthermore you can reliably predict the position of the sun, so while you might need to wait for the appropriate moment, nature will arrange your lighting for you.

3 flashes used, each with a different color filter. Photo by  Vinicius “amnx” Amano 


Now that you know you can create some fun things with a flash and without a flash, try taking some time and see what you like better. Just be aware that you can get different colors light with the different types of artificial lighting. And electronic flash is balanced for daylight, so you can get natural colors with your electronic flash, the same as sunshine. But you do have an advantage of artificial light creating something really spectacular if you can learn to see how the light is controlling the overall picture. Refer to: https://123photogo.com/2022/08/15/seeing-the-image-as-an-artist/

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