Do you find that most of your images shot with flash (when it is set to ETTL mode) -- whether you use just on-camera flash, or a combination of on and off-camera flash -- tend to be underexposed? This is a common problem I see with many newer photographers. The reason for this 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 lights in the background of both of these shots:
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:
On the Canon 5D Mark III the button used to access the flash compensation settings is shared by the ISO setting:
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:
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!
learn flash for wedding receptions
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