If you’re preparing for a trip and you plan to bring your camera to take photos, you might be wondering if it is worth bringing a flash along, as well. After all, it takes up valuable suitcase space, right? Is it really that important for travel photography?
Is Flash Required For Travel Photography? Having flash allows a photographer to be more versatile, so for a lot of travel, it can be a great benefit to have flash. If a traveler is trying to take photographs at night, or of backlit subjects, or indoors, a flash is highly recommended.
Since many of us don’t know exactly what lighting situations our travels might place us in, having a flash can definitely be an advantage. However, you could argue that a flash isn’t absolutely necessary for travel, and there are certainly some situations in which you may not need to worry about packing a flash. In some scenarios, flash can make the difference between a quality photo and a flop.
One of the terrific benefits of travel is that it lets us see new places, experience new cultures, and try new things, all of which can make for fabulous photography subjects. Whether we are looking to make professional-grade prints or just document our memories, travel photography can be very rewarding.
There are inevitably situations where you will naturally have a scene that is partially in deep shadow, partially in harsh, bright light. This can be aggravating, especially if the subject you wish to photograph is in the shadows. Using a flash helps fill in and lighten shadows without overexposing the parts of the scene that are already lit.
If you plan on photographing any moving subjects and you want clear, crisp photos, a flash can help achieve this. While other settings, such as a fast shutter speed, are also important, a flash can help freeze moving subjects. If the image is slightly underexposed, as well, a flash can help set the subject in motion apart from the background, focusing more attention on the intended subject.
Dark interior settings will pose a real challenge if you don’t have a flash at the handy. Even if you adjust other settings, such as raising your ISO setting, some dark scenes simply won’t result in a good capture without the aid of a flash.
Travel is often a time to get out and explore, and this doesn’t necessarily end when the sun goes down. A lot of places have an exciting nightlife that can be a real treat to photograph. One of the best ways to clearly capture street life at night is with a flash.
You have two main options when considering bringing flash along on a trip: on-camera flash and off-camera flash. Both have their advantages and disadvantages.
On-camera flash is a flash that is attached directly to your camera. It is usually a built-in pop-up flash, but some camera models have attachable flash units. The benefit of the on-camera flash is that it is great if you didn’t pack a separate flash and want to capture a shot that requires it, such as a backlit scene. It doesn’t take up valuable suitcase space.
The downside to an on-camera flash is that it isn’t all that versatile. It creates direct light which can have a harsh effect that washes out subjects and makes them look flat or washed out. An externally mounted on-camera flash is often at least a little bit better than a pop-up style on-camera flash because it can be angled to avoid the direct light flare and give you more exposure control over your scene.
Off-camera flash, as the name implies, is a flash that is located anywhere but on the camera itself. It gives greater control over how the scene is lit, but it is another piece of equipment you have to carry along, taking up space in your bag. It is mostly useful if you know you have a specific shot in mind that will require specific lighting. Otherwise, it may not be worth lugging along the way with you.
If you are having trouble getting the right exposure on a subject because it is half in shadow, half in light, a flash can help fill in the shadows and allow for a more visible subject without overexposing the lighter areas.
If you are planning on taking portraits, such as of friends or of locals in the place you are visiting, a flash can help to truly take your photos to the next level. Flash can help set subjects apart from the background, especially if you slightly underexpose the photo and use the flash. It will make the differentiation between the subject and background more distinct.
Dim indoor settings can be very common when traveling, as there are locations where natural and artificial light may be less than ideal. In these situations, a flash is critical and can make the difference between a truly stunning capture and a scrapped attempt. A wooded forest, a tour through a ruin, or having lunch in a local’s home may all have dim lighting that needs the assistance of a flash to capture the scene.
If you want to capture the vibrancy of a city’s nightlife or photograph friends after the sun goes down, a flash is a must. Any sort of night photography that isn’t specifically astrophotography or light trails will benefit from a flash unit.
Should flash be used in every situation? Most likely not, depending on the type of photography you are looking to do. It’s important to experiment and practice with your camera in order to get a good sense of when it is appropriate to use it to obtain your desired result.
Oops! Maybe there was not enough room in your bags or you simply forgot it, but now you need a flash and you don’t have it. Don’t worry, with some adjustments you might be able to still get a good photo.
First of all, utilize the light available. Plan on taking photos during the times of day when the sunlight will be brightest or will be at an angle to illuminate the desired scene. If you can, move subjects in ways so that they are out of shadowy areas and better lit. Try to avoid having subjects be backlit, as this will make them less distinguishable in the photo.
In a real pinch, you can also construct a makeshift light diffuser. While there are versions you can purchase, it is another piece of equipment you have to carry so it may be easier to simply make one with available materials. Take a scarf or a shirt and cover a lamp to make its light softer and less direct. This often permits more flexibility for where your subject can then be photographed.
Feel free to get creative with reflection. Mirrors can be used to angle light back on a subject, but practically any source can be used to reflect some amount of light back on a subject. A sheet of white paper held up strategically can help illuminate a face, while the reflection of light off a body of water might aid in brightening a scene. The main thing is to enjoy your trip and not feel like your missing great shots!