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How to Use Your Flash Effectively for Portraits (part 2 of 5) – by MCP Guest Blogger Matthew Kees


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Matthew Kees is a very talented photographer and teacher.  He is doing a 5 part series on the MCP Actions Blog on Using a Modern Flash for Portraits.  I am excited to share his knowledge and expertise with all of my readers. These tutorials will launch once every other week. On the alternate weeks, time permitting, Matthew will look through the “comment section” and answer some of your questions.  So make sure to ask your questions directly in the comment section about this post.

This is Part 2 of 5.

by Matthew L Kees, guest to the MCP Actions Blog

Director of Online Photography Course [MOPC]


Using TTL Flash Indoors (“freeze or i’ll shoot…”)


In TTL mode, a sensor inside the camera body controls the amount of light produced by the flash, so you get a perfect (or near perfect) flash exposure every time. To make your first flash experience as easy as possible set the flash to TTL.


When shooting indoors, since the flash is creating a majority of the light, it becomes the “key” light or main light in the exposure. A correct exposure is based on the key light and the flash/camera’s dedicated TTL ability is controlling that for you. You can pretty much ignore the camera’s built-in exposure meter.


To begin, set your ISO to 400, the f/stop to f/8 for close in work, or f/4 for distance or when bouncing the light, and a low shutter speed of around 1/30 for normal interior lighting.  If you have some window light, increase the shutter speed to 1/60.  For a lot of window light change the ISO to 200.


The slow shutter isn’t going to cause motion blur as the quickness of the flash light will freeze the subject. What it does, is add a little bit of room or ambient light to the exposure, to make the image less “flashy”.


Straight on, the flash will give a correctly exposed image but not a very flattering one. The best way to use flash indoors is to bounce the light off a wall or ceiling. When you do this, the TTL system might not give you enough exposure, so you compensate for this by increasing the EV setting of the flash.


With Nikon you simply hold down the flash pop-up button and turn the command dial till you see EV=+1.0 (one stop over).  The flash compensation can be set in one-third stop increments (EV=0.3) so you can fine tune the exposure to your liking.  Canon uses a scale for FEC from EV=-2.0 to EV=+2.0 (two stops under to two stops over) with short hash marks for the one-third stop settings.


You can also bounce the flash off a piece of foamcore to give you more control of the position of the key light.  A round reflector, often used as a fill outdoors, works too.  A second piece of foamcore will act as a fill for a very inexpensive “portrait lighting” set-up.


This is a quick start tutorial but hopefully will be enough to get you started making good indoor portraits using flash light.< >< ><–>


No Comments

  1. Denise Olson on November 30, 2008 at 11:46 am

    Thanks Matthew, just what I was looking for this past week. Would love see some tidbits on the use of flash outdoors…:) Thanks for your wealth of information!!

  2. Laura on November 30, 2008 at 4:40 pm

    Matthew, first I want to thank you so much for your generosity in all that you share with us. You are such a great guy. :-)My question is…when you say to set the flash to TTL, do you do that within the camera body menu or on the flash itself? I have the Nikon D80 and the SB800. Thanks! This flash stuff so confuses me, although I have managed to stumble on some good shots here and there using it both on and off camera bouncing it.

  3. Lauri Hill on November 30, 2008 at 8:28 pm

    Mathew, you are such a great teacher. After reading this, I think I can actually understand my flash. Before I put it to TTL and prayed. Sometimes I got a good shot, but could never figure out how to make it consistent. Of course I was bouncing all over the place but not changing EV. Now I am ready to go to work mastering this flash. After Christmas, when my time is freer, I want to check out your classes. Thanks again.

  4. Stephanie on December 1, 2008 at 8:58 am

    This post was just in time for Christmas. Plus its getting cold and dark up in Michigan, so I’m stuck indoors with bad lighting. We put up our tree yesterday and after reading your post I decided to try out the settings with my kids. The pictures actually turned out pretty good. Good exposure, no motion blur. Now I’m excited to get the SB600 or 800. My Dad’s flash from his old Minolta just happend to work with my D60 so I’ve been playing with that. But it doesn’t rotate so I still end up with the dark black shadow on some photos.I would love to see some demo photos in the posts. I’m a DSLR newbie so visuals help.

  5. Jennie on December 1, 2008 at 1:55 pm

    Thank you for this consice post about use of speedlights. You have a great ability to simplify the complicated!I’ve heard of using the foam core to bounce the light and I think I know how I would use the first piece, but you mentioned you could use a second piece. Can you provide an explaination or diagram of how to do this? Thanks so much.

  6. Debbie on December 17, 2008 at 11:02 pm

    I have have a strobe for my Nikon camera and have read many articles and still did not understand how to use it. The way you simplified the complicated has help me understand how to work with my flash. I took some pictures to night and the exposure was excellent…………THANKS!!!

  7. forex robot on June 29, 2010 at 7:30 am

    Wow this is a great resource.. I’m enjoying it.. good article

  8. Marit Welker on October 26, 2011 at 10:36 am

    Love these ideas! I knew most of this, but I am still learning flash and didn’t know what the ttl setting meant. cool! Thanks for sharing this. I hope this makes my work better!

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