Ditch the Flash: Capture Amazing Holiday Light

Now that winter has arrived and we’re taking more night time photos, it’s very tempting to use flash. However, flash is not always the most effective way to go. In this article, I will explore how turning off the flash is more appropriate for some situations and can yield dramatic results.

Even though I currently shoot with a Digital SLR, I started my digital photo journey with what would be call “point & shoot” digital cameras. Thus, this article will be applicable to both types of cameras.

So, when should you turn off the flash?  In general, most camera flashes (especially built in units) are only good for about 20 feet more or less. Thus, it usually doesn’t make sense to use it at a ball park or in a large auditorium.

The question then becomes “is it possible to get good photos without the flash?” The answer is “yes.” One way is to slow the shutter speed. However, you run the risk of camera shake. Another is to increase the camera’s ISO which is the relative speed of the digital film. A higher sensitivity allows us to take pictures in low light without using flash, but can also result in grainier photos. Thus, it’s best to use a combination of shutter speed and ISO speed.

However, there is no one answer for this combination since every person will have their own shutter speed that minimizes camera shake. Additionally, every camera has its own digital film speed capabilities. Thus, you have to practice.  Here’s a case where a tripod or a monopod can help.

Here’s an example of a photo I took without flash at a play where one of the performers was my co-worker. Because the stage was well lit, a flash was not needed.

Another reason to turn off the flash is when taking photos of lights. Here’s a photo I took at my town’s tree lighting last year:

A flash would only be useful if you have something in the foreground to light as here:

However, notice the difference in how the tree looks.

Finally, another situation is a birthday party where candles on a cake are lit. Here’s a photo I took 10 years ago at a nephew’s party. This was taken with a really low capability digital camera, but I really like the effect of the photo.

There are many other situations where a better photo is possible without a flash. So, give it a try and turn off your flash every now and then.


  1. Joey says

    Great tips once again Henry. I often have tried to turn the flash off when taking photos of food. Sometimes they turn out and other times they are a blur. I’ll have to read up on the settings for my camera – I love the tree lighting in your area. How beautiful.

    These are great tips and I will keep trying.

  2. rsheedy says

    Excellent tips…this is one area I really struggle with. You are an amazing photographer and I learn a lot from your articles. Thanks for sharing your expertise!

  3. says

    Thanks Henry! Your explanation is very clear. The photo examples really put the words and description together to show your point. I wish more photography article showed such before and after shots.

  4. Earl J says

    Filled with good tips, Henry. Your photos show us what a difference flash can make. You make it easy to see when flash doesn’t work well, like what it did to the Christmas tree.

  5. Tiffany M says

    Awesome examples Henry! I think I need to invest in a tripod. Thanks for the great tips! I’ll definately give it a whirl! :o)

  6. shannonr says

    Henry, thanks for the tips, great article. I do struggle quite often with knowing when to turn the flash on or leave off. Your article will definitnley help in my learning more about the flash, also great examples, they definitley helped give more a vision of what is occuring. Thanks

  7. BarbaraJ says

    The end results is worth the effort. I love taking night or evening shots without the flash, as I did this past Christmas of our home all lit up. Thank your for your informative article. Great suggestions.

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