Some photographers go out of their way to avoid using flash (I’m one of them), but there are certain situations where your choices are flash or bad kid’s photos. So, let’s get over our fear of flash and embrace it (when necessary) with these tips:
The reason why flash gets such a bad rap is likely because whenever you try to use it you end up with 1) red eye, 2) dark shadows, and 3) overly bright areas. You can solve all of these problems by using a flash diffuser. Don’t have one? Tape a piece of Kleenex over your flash – the tissue will diffuse the light and make it nice and soft.
Fast shutter speeds mean less light, so if you are in a pinch and need to boost your exposure flash can be your best friend. Keep in mind that you can generally only go as high as 1/250s, since this is as fast as your flash can fire. Get in your camera’s flash settings and experiment with “rear-curtain” flash (adding flash at the end of the exposure, rather than the beginning) for some interesting effects. This might take some getting used to – don’t expect great kid’s photos right away.
On camera flash is pretty limiting. It only faces forward, is stuck to your camera, and is not that powerful. Off-camera flash gives you a lot more options, particularly if you can remotely trigger your flash using your camera. You can even create multiple-light setups using your on camera flash and one or more off-camera units. Using an off camera flash combined with your on camera flash also helps to create more dimension in kid’s photos – if you can get them to sit still for long enough.
If you have an external flash unit, try bouncing the flash off a nearby ceiling or wall to 1) diffuse the light and 2) change the angle of light hitting your subject. You’ll get interesting light effects, nice soft shadows, and great photos. Watch the color and distance of the wall/ceiling, though, as this can effect how much light you get bounced back and can also affect the color temperature and might require you to adjust the white balance.
Flash isn’t just meant for indoors, it can be equally effective outside. When you’re dealing with overhead sunlight and harsh shadows flash can “fill in” the darker areas for a more balanced image, rather than trying to relocate your kids somewhere that’s shady. Working with backlight? Rather than risk overexposure of your background you can use flash to illuminate your foreground for a more balanced image. Macro shots can benefit from flash as well to set the foreground apart from the surrounds or to increase contrast.
While flash may not work for all types of kid’s phtos (and certainly takes some getting used to), by experimenting with it you will no longer be restricted to photos where there is “enough” light. Have fun with it!!