Do you find that most of your images shot with flash (when it is set to ETTL mode) -- tend to be underexposed? This is the most common mistake I see photographers making when it comes to using flash. I recently noticed that a regular second shooter of mine was having this issue and I asked her if she knew the simple hack I'm going to share with you in this post to fix underexposed flash images and she had never even heard of it! That's when I realized this might be something that is not widely known among photographers. And with it being such a simple fix, I thought I'd share it with you today!

The reason it is so easy and common to underexpose when using flash during wedding receptions is that most images taken at a reception have some type of ambient lighting - whether it's candles, wall lights, ceiling lights or twinkle lights - in the background. Note the up-lights illuminating the drapes in the background of this shot:
tip for using flash compensation to improve your wedding reception images
And the twinkle lights in the background of this one:
tip for using flash compensation to improve your wedding reception images
When your on-camera flash is set to ETTL mode, your camera evaluates how much flash power should be put out and includes these lights in the equation. So in trying to accurately expose for the ambient lights in the shot, your flash under-exposes your subjects. This scenario is much like shooting a subject in a room with window light behind them. You need to over-expose (according to your in-camera meter) in order to properly expose your subject. In the case of our reception scenario, you need to ask your flash to put out more power than your camera is telling it is needed.

Flash compensation is the setting you use to ask your flash to over-expose (it can also be used to tell your flash to under-expose -- sometimes helpful when using flash for fill). As each camera is different, look for this symbol on the top of your camera:
Symbol for flash compensation.
On the Canon 5D Mark III the button used to access the flash compensation settings is shared by the ISO setting:
tip for using flash compensation to improve your wedding reception images
Once you find that button, push it and then try both of your wheels to determine which is used to control your flash compensation. Look for a meter like this on the top of your camera:
tip for using flash compensation to improve your wedding reception images
This meter is just like the one in your viewfinder except that it is used to over or under-expose your flash when it is on your camera and in ETTL mode. It's really a brilliant thing.

Because I am always dealing with ambient lights in my reception shots, I tend to leave my flash compensation setting on +2/3 or +1 full stop for the entire reception. But I check my LCD screen (and sometimes the histogram) to see if I need to make adjustments.

Yay for saying good-bye to under-exposed reception images!!

If you found this post helpful, and are interested in learning more, click here to opt-in for my free video series -- 6 Hacks to Eliminate Boring Low-Light Photos and Get You Creating Reception Images you LOVE! In it I share my best 6 tips for shooting with flash. If you are intimidated by flash and wanting to conquer it once and for all, this is a great place to start!
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