Do I Need An External Flash For Outdoor Photography

Outdoor photography presents a unique set of challenges and opportunities, each of which can significantly impact the quality of your images. One of the most frequently asked questions among photography enthusiasts and hobby photographers is whether an external flash is necessary for outdoor shoots. While natural light is a powerful tool, an external flash can offer several advantages that elevate your outdoor photography to new heights. This blog post will delve into the complexities of using an external flash for outdoor photography and help you make an informed decision.

Understanding Natural Light in Outdoor Photography

Pros of Using Natural Light

  1. Natural Aesthetic: Natural light often provides a more authentic and softer look, capturing scenes as they are.
  2. Cost-Effective: Relying on natural light means you don’t need to invest in additional equipment, making it an affordable option.
  3. Ease of Use: Beginners can find natural light less intimidating as it requires no additional setup or technical knowledge.

Cons of Using Natural Light

  1. Inconsistent Lighting: Natural light is unpredictable and can vary based on the time of day, weather conditions, and geographic location.
  2. Harsh Shadows: Midday sun can create unflattering, harsh shadows that can ruin your photos.
  3. Limited Control: Photographers have little control over natural light, making it challenging to achieve the desired effect consistently.

The Role of External Flash in Outdoor Photography

Pros of Using an External Flash

  1. Control and Flexibility: An external flash allows you to control the intensity and direction of light, providing more creative freedom.
  2. Fill Light: External flashes can fill in shadows, providing balanced lighting even in harsh sunlight conditions.
  3. Enhanced Detail: By controlling light, you can highlight details and textures that may be lost in natural light.
  4. Consistency: External flashes offer consistent lighting regardless of changing natural light conditions.

Cons of Using an External Flash

  1. Additional Cost: High-quality external flashes can be expensive, adding to the overall cost of your photography gear.
  2. Learning Curve: Using an external flash effectively requires some technical knowledge and practice.
  3. Portability: Carrying additional equipment can be cumbersome, especially during long outdoor shoots.

Situations Where an External Flash is Beneficial

Portrait Photography

In outdoor portrait photography, an external flash can be invaluable for filling in shadows and providing even lighting. It also helps in separating the subject from the background, giving a more professional look to your portraits.

Macro Photography

When capturing close-up shots of insects, flowers, or other small subjects, an external flash helps to illuminate details that may be lost in natural light. It also allows for faster shutter speeds, reducing the risk of motion blur.

Mixed Lighting Conditions

In scenarios where natural light is inconsistent—such as during sunrise or sunset—an external flash can provide the necessary fill light to balance the exposure, ensuring that both the foreground and background are well-lit.

Backlit Subjects

When shooting subjects that are backlit, an external flash ensures that the subject is properly exposed without overexposing the background.

Tips for Using an External Flash Outdoors

Use Flash Diffusers

A diffuser softens the light emitted by the flash, reducing harsh shadows and providing a more natural look to your photos.

Bounce the Flash

If possible, bounce the flash off a surface (like a reflector) to create softer, more even lighting. This technique is especially useful for portrait photography.

Experiment with Flash Power

Adjust the flash power settings to find the right balance between natural and artificial light. This helps in achieving the desired effect without overexposing your shots.

Use High-Speed Sync

High-speed sync allows you to use the flash at shutter speeds higher than the camera’s native sync speed. This is particularly useful for balancing bright backgrounds with your subject.

Practice and Experiment

The key to mastering an external flash is practice. Experiment with different settings, angles, and techniques to understand how it affects your photos.


Do I Need an External Flash for Outdoor Photography?

An external flash is not strictly necessary for outdoor photography, but it can greatly enhance the quality of your photos by providing control and flexibility over lighting conditions.

What Type of Flash Should I Buy?

Consider investing in a high-quality, versatile flash with adjustable power settings and compatibility with diffusers and other modifiers.

Can I Use My Camera’s Built-In Flash?

While built-in flashes can be helpful in some situations, they often lack the power and flexibility of external flashes, making them less effective for professional-quality outdoor photography.

How Do I Avoid Harsh Shadows When Using a Flash?

Use diffusers, bounce the flash, or adjust the flash power settings to soften the light and reduce harsh shadows.

Is Using an External Flash Difficult?

There is a learning curve involved, but with practice and experimentation, you can master the use of an external flash to significantly improve your outdoor photography.


While natural light is a wonderful resource for outdoor photography, an external flash can provide additional control and flexibility that can enhance the quality of your images. Whether you’re capturing portraits, macro shots, or dealing with mixed lighting conditions, an external flash offers solutions that natural light alone cannot. With the tips and insights provided in this blog post, you’re now equipped to make an informed decision and take your outdoor photography to the next level.