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5 Reasons to Use Flash to Improve Your Travel Photography

When it comes to travel photography, I am all in for carrying less. However, a good flash is always within reach in my everyday camera bag. I strongly believe that a flash helps to achieve much better results in a number of situations, and here are five reasons and examples:

1) Fill the shadows

Fishing on the Cau River

The alleyway that protects these fishing villagers from the heat in Vietnam makes it almost impossible to have a good balance between the bright sunlight on the river, and the walls of the alley. The use of flash, in a controlled way, over the foreground helps to open up the shadows and show some detail on the otherwise totally dark foreground.

2) Under-expose your background

Farmer in Van Ha

When making portraits, it is always good to have decent separation between your main subject and the background. Granted, one of the most popular ways is to use a shallow depth of field and blur the background while keeping the principal element of your photo sharp. Another way is to intentionally under-expose your photo one or two stops, and light your subject with flash to compensate.

3) Freeze motion

For the love of the kids

If you are working with moving subjects, the use of flash will help to freeze some of the motion if you intend to do so. This depends on a number of factors, including what shutter speed you are shooting at and the length of the flash duration. But, if you notice in the example above, the flash is only being used to achieve points one and two of this article, meaning I am also underexposing the image a tad, and opening up the shadows in the main subject to bring more attention to them.

4) Dark interiors

Old Black Hmong man

This artisan from the Hmong minorities in North Vietnam was working his craft inside his house where no lights are available. Despite being close to a window, it was way too dark to photograph, even at high ISO. If you encounter a similar condition, the use of flash will not only make a big difference, but could also be the reason you get the shot at all.

5) Keep shooting at night

Street performer at night in New Orleans

Some places are meant to be enjoyed at night. All kind of photos are possible during this time. Cityscapes and lights trails are certainly compelling propositions, but when it comes to capturing street life there is no better way than with the aid of flash. That extra pop of light will make your subjects come alive and stand out.

The key to doing this is to practice and learn how to manage and balance ratios. Every moment is different and sometimes your key light will be your flash, and other times you’ll be using it just to fill. My personal preference is to do it manually. I think you have much better control by dialling in the power of your speedlights manually, rather than letting the camera figure it out. It takes practice, but it is not difficult to master.

In terms of equipment, I really like the Yongnuo YN 560-III, the main reason is the integrated radio trigger. The units are inexpensive, but well made, which doesn’t hurt either. But as I always use it off-camera, the fact that I don’t need to attach cables or be worried about optical slaves is something that I appreciate. That radio signal goes everywhere, even behind walls, making it very easy to trigger.

What about you? Do you use any flash in your travel photos or in situations like these? Share your images and comments below.

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Daniel Korzeniewski

Daniel Korzeniewski is a Miami-based, travel photographer. His work has appeared in several publications and he contributes to various stock photography outlets. You can find out more about his work, travel adventures, or join him on one of his upcoming photography tours (to Morocco, India, or Myanmar). You can also follow him on Instagram.