Photo Tip: To Flash or Not to Flash

Here’s this week’s photo tip…

Lori Allen
Director, Great Escape Publishing

April 8, 2009
The Right Way to Travel, Weekly Photo Tip

By Shelly Perry in Portland, OR.

People photos can be some of the most rewarding and challenging shots to take. They can also be the most lucrative if you get them right.

One of the most important elements you need to master in order to sell your photos of people (family, friends, or strangers) is light.

The pop up flash on your camera is ALMOST NEVER an option if you want to sell your photos to magazines, stock agencies, or as fine art. It’s fine for pictures you plan to keep in your photo album at home, but it’s not acceptable for photos you plan to sell.

It’s a classic sign of a “snapshot” and it’ll ruin an otherwise acceptable image.

That said, I am not advocating that you never ever use your on-camera flash again. I am, however, encouraging you to know the difference between saleable images and those that you tuck into an album and pull out at family dinners for a giggle and to reminisce.

Here is an example from this month’s Photo Challenge…

To Flash or Not to Flash

It’s a darling shot of a little girl with her grandma’s glasses on. The light source, however, has given this shot the tell-tale signs of pop up flash. You can tell by the bright, intense light on the little girl, and by the big shadow on the wall behind her head (look below her ears)…

So, what could grandma have done differently to get this shot if she wanted to sell it to magazines, stock agencies, or as fine art…

Well, first of all, I would tell her to take this shot exactly as it is. It’s so cute and charming. I would hate for her to miss this moment. Turn that flash on and fire away.

Then I would say -- if she wanted to sell the photograph in addition to adding it to her family album -- try picking the girl up and moving her into some better light.

One thing you can do during the day is simply step out onto the front porch and use the natural light from outdoors. Another thing you can try is moving her to a window-lit area of the house.

Be careful to stay away from bright midday sun or areas that have a mix of direct light and shade. Instead, watch for “even” lighting.

And if, for some reason, you must use a pop-up flash, try diffusing the light, using something to make it spread out. You can do this on the run with something as simple as a white Kleenex slipped over the flash. There are also products you can find online made specifically for this. One is the Puffer by Gary Fong, which fits over your on-camera flash and softens the direct light.

While these options are not perfect solutions, they will give you better results in a pinch if no natural light is available.

Here are three of my photos up for sale at

All were taken either indoors with light coming from a window, or on the front porch. Notice that none of them have harsh shadows. And that my subject isn’t blown out by the intensity of an on-camera flash (because I didn’t use it)…

And again, I’m not suggesting that you never use your flash. I’m simply saying that there’s a lot of money to be made out there selling photographs of people. And with a little planning and readjustment of your subject, you might just be able to cash in on it.


This month’s Photo Challenge theme is “April’s Fools Rush In.” If you have a picture to submit, log on to our website and click on the Enter to Win tab. (Note: First-time users need to register on the "register" link on the right side bar first. Once you have a username and password, click "Enter to Win" to upload your photo.) Only ONE photo per applicant will be considered. Multiple entries will be deleted.

Photos are due by 8:00 a.m. EST, Monday, April 27th, 2009.

[Editor’s Note: Learn more about how you can turn your pictures into cash in our free online newsletter The Right Way to Travel.  Sign up here today and we’ll send you a new report, Selling Photos for Cash: A Quick-Start Guide, completely FREE.]