Adjusting Your DSLR’s Flash Output

December 6, 2010

in Photography, Tips & Tutorials


NOTE: This trick is useful when you need a fill flash – that is, when you need to light up your subject a little on top of the available natural or relatively bright artificial light.

If, like me, you have recently gotten your first DSLR and are still figuring it out, and if you haven’t covered that part of your manual yet, let me break it to you: You can adjust how much light your camera’s built-in flash is putting out, which is really useful when you need a little extra light but are still trying to avoid that over-exposed, washed-out look that the untamed flash can cause.

Now, on my particular camera, this function is only available with the manual modes – P (programmed – basically point-and-shoot – camera determines the ISO, the aperture, and the shutter speed automatically), A (aperture priority – you set the aperture, the camera figures out everything else), S (shutter priority – you set the shutter speed, the camera does everything else), and M (fully manual – you get to set your own damn values). That’s quite alright with me – I prefer to shoot on P or A anyway.

Anyhow, you only need to adjust your flash output once, and the camera will remember that value after your turn it off and on and/or switch between modes. You can adjust it up or down in increments, but, personally, I only adjust it down.

Now this is something that works really well in combination with my other favorite function – the exposure compensation. Depending on how much light is available, I also increase or decrease the exposure. Between those two (the flash-output adjustment and exposure compensation), I feel like I am able to get just enough light on the subject without leaving it overexposed, yet not having to be limited by the amount of the natural light available to me at any given time.

Here are some examples:


This picture was taken without a flash. I was taking pictures by the window, but the day was dark and gray. This really won’t do.


This is what the picture looks like with the full-force flash output. This won’t do either. (I shot this on the AUTO mode, which cancels my flash output adjustment and gives me the standard flash output).


This was shot on “P”, with the reduced flash-output value I’d set earlier. Now we’re cooking with butter! Much better, don’t you think?

Here are some more examples:


No flash… note the icky blue sheen associated with low-light conditions.


With a flash!


No flash – yikes. Color is off and it’s totally out of focus – another example of light deficiency.




No flash.





The two lovely, festive pictures above were shot in the same way (with the flash output turned down). I think they turned out pretty good.

So yes, if you haven’t discovered this function yet, go forth, search your manual’s index for “adjusting flash output,” and see for yourselves! And if you are currently contemplating the purchase of a DSLR, do know that it can do this! Check out another, more recent example here.


1 Jenna December 8, 2010 at 11:58 am

Very cool!! I’ve never tried to adjust the camera’s flash output–I need to try it. I have an external flash that I LOVE using, but every now and then it’s too bulky to bring around, and this seems like a great trick to have up my sleeve. =)

2 Sofya December 8, 2010 at 12:16 pm

Hey Jenna – thanks for stopping by! Now, thanks to you, Ree Drummond and I now only have 2 degrees of separation (I know Aurora, Aurora knows you, you know Ree). I also have an external flash but I find it too bulky for everyday use. Things happen somewhat spontaneously in my life, especially when my kids are involved.

3 Sara March 21, 2011 at 9:41 pm

Oh thanks! I do most of my pics at night (as I think my office at work is a pretty boring topic, despite the great light) and I am always frustrated by that awful washed-out flash light you mention. Plus, my DSLR was expensive enough and I’m not keen on extra accessories. I will check this out!

4 Sofya March 21, 2011 at 9:56 pm

Now, if it is very important to get pictures at night that don’t say “flash,” an external flash is the way to go. I do own one, just don’t use it most of the time. The built-in one really performs for me, especially as a fill-flash during the day or in dimmish places.

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