I'm thinking of getting a flash for better indoor pictures. I was looking at the 430EX Speedlite as a good unit in budget, but still having lots of capability.

How do I use this most effectively indoors to not get super harsh light? I see a lot of talk about the diffusers, and bouncing, but I want to be able to get quick reactions, so working with a large setup won't work very well.

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    Also, do you have to use it in a hotshoe? I quite often use a 430EX II attached to a short coiled cable for use when I need to work quickly. – Edd Nov 29 '12 at 9:12
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    I think this question should just have the words "effective" removed. Effective and flash units bring on ideas of light modifiers for direct and typically harsh light over usually longer distances or difficult lighting situations. I understand the easy confusion, but it is more clear by saying "how do i get soft light from a hot shoe mounted flash". – dpollitt Nov 29 '12 at 15:03
  • Thanks for updating the question title, I was wandering around it a bit before you all really figured out what I was looking for. – Aaron Nov 29 '12 at 17:33
  • @Edd no, it doesn't need to be in a hotshoe, I guess the main criteria is that the setup be mobile - so no stands, etc. so a sync cable would probably work fine. – Aaron Nov 29 '12 at 17:34

Bouncing gives the most diffuse light given an appropriate surface and usually produces excellent results. It's better to aim above and slightly behind you, if you light the ceiling directly above your subject you can get uneven lighting of the face, particularly eye sockets.

Bouncing off walls can work well but tends to be less predictable and even, as your distance (and that of your subjects) from the wall will vary, whereas your distance from the ceiling tends to remain fairly constant!


If you want to use the flash the "most effective way", it makes me think you are trying to direct the most light on a subject as possible. To do this you would want to point the flash directly on the subject and possibly use a snoot depending on the distance away from the camera.

If you have a white ceiling that isn't too high, bouncing requires no additional equipment beyond the 430EX and provides a much larger surface area for the light to reflect off of. This is typically much more pleasing as the light is softer and more attractive if it comes from above and not directly head on.

I don't think the question is, what is the most effective way to use a hot shoe mounted flash indoors, the question should be something like

  • What is the most flattering way to light a subject indoors with a flash unit
  • What is the best way to light a macro subject indoors with a flash unit
  • How do I best photograph large groups indoors with a an on camera flash unit
  • etc. etc
  • This question originally came from Photography Chat, and I'm pretty sure the intention of the question was about getting nice, soft light, not about getting the most light. I've edited the question to reflect that, and I thought I'd give you a heads-up so you can update your answer if you like. :) – mattdm Nov 29 '12 at 14:00
  • @mattdm - Yea, that would make sense. Nice soft light is certainly different then the most light! – dpollitt Nov 29 '12 at 14:55
  • @dpollitt my question is more towards the first bullet you've pointed out - I believe that it would be more effective to get a flash instead of a very fast lens for indoor use, and I was just wondering what other options there are besides the off-the-ceiling method. – Aaron Nov 29 '12 at 17:35

If you want to have soft light, the source of the light has to be a significant size. So the bigger it is the 'softer' it will be.

When you bounce your flash say against the ceiling what you are effectively doing is creating that large big source of light on whatever you are shooting at. Specifically what @PatFarrell was alluding to was to have a look at this article and other related to it.


For cost-effectiveness, you're almost certain to be better off looking at some third-party flash vendors, rather than Canon own-brand models. Yongnuo in particular make some very cheap E-TTL (ie automatically metering) flashes. Speedlights.net has very detailed reviews of just about every flash available.

As an aside, if by "indoors" you mean a typical family home, you may well be able to use the ceiling as something to use for bounce flash.

  • The question is not "what flash should I buy", it is "how to use this flash unit the most effectively". – dpollitt Nov 28 '12 at 21:24
  • The question /was/ "what flash should I buy" before the OP edited it though - see the history (admittedly some of it from me). – Philip Kendall Nov 28 '12 at 21:35
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    I looked at the full history, and I disagree. – dpollitt Nov 28 '12 at 21:41
  • Originally, Aaron asked this question in chat: "so even if I get a 430EX speedlite for indoor use, how do I use it effectively to not get harsh light?" and I suggested bring it here. – mattdm Nov 29 '12 at 14:03

The most effective way to have your photos look good is to move the flash off the hotshoe. Its impossible to have flattering light with on-camera flash.

Go read Strobist 101 on strobist.com to learn huge numbers of cool tricks and concepts, all free.

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    It is not impossible. Adding reflectors and using bounce techniques, flattering lighting is very possible. – Victor Engel Nov 29 '12 at 1:46
  • You are right. I read the question literally as, hotshoe mounted, and not hotshoe flash off camera :P – dpollitt Nov 29 '12 at 2:58
  • While a reflector can help, photos are interesting when there is contrast between light and shadow. To get interesting shadows, you must move the flash off camera. You can do it with a $50 kit of stand, cord and umbrella. – Pat Farrell Nov 29 '12 at 15:06
  • Again, nonsense. You don't have to move the flash off camera, you need to move the light source off camera. Bounce does that, and lets you choose the direction as well (more effective if you use a flash-mounted flag to block direct light). – user28116 Aug 17 '14 at 12:36

Gary Fongs Light Sphere does a really decent job at softening and molding light from a flash on the hot shoe approach. I disagree with Pat Farrel on this as there are hundreds of people shooting completely effective imagery this way.

It's quick, relatively cheap compared to an external light and can produce great "event" style photos.

It can be bulky but I suggest just working on your approach more, practice carrying the rig in one hand often and do less asking for permission and just take peoples photos. you can get great expressions and after awhile people just let you do your thing.

check it out here

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