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I’ve heard it so many times over the course of my 10+ years in business. However, there was one remark that will forever be etched into my memory. I was shooting a wedding at a beautiful country club, and while I was frantically trying to capture as many portraits as possible during golden hour, I was struggling to place the light in the right place. It was about that exact time that a wedding guest walking into the reception (carrying his own DSLR) stopped and shouted “Those portraits would be way better if you used a flash?!” Yea. Yikes. Not only did I question what I was doing, but I also cringed at the thought that one of my couple’s friend’s publicly humiliated me in front of them!!!

Whether I’m shooting in a backlit scenario in a park or at a wedding during golden hour, it seems like hobbyist photographers and even some professional photographers are drawn to me, telling me how I should be using a flash!! It’s annoying to say the least. However, instead of letting it cripple my confidence and question my approach to lighting, I choose to focus on what I know to be true…..that I’ve found the secret to being able to recognize, control, and manipulate light without needing to use artificial light!!


What’s happening is that there are some photographers who have been taught that it’s improper and WRONG to overexpose a background in order to have creamy, glowy skintones. The truth is, everyone has their own style and you can have beautiful images WITH flash, and you can create beautiful images WITHOUT a flash as well!

My choice is to forego the flash when I’m shooting in natural light! I only use flash at receptions, shooting family formals in a dark church, and when there are emergency situations. The secret to not using flash 95% of the time when I’m shooting is being able to understand how ALL kinds of natural light behave. Whether you’re working in backlit scenarios, indirect lighting scenarios, or direct lighting scenarios, you CAN be confident that you can control the light you’re working with!

As I think back to being a newer photographer, I remember seriously doubting the way I was shooting when other photographers would tell me I “should be using a flash”. I would think “Wait, maybe I should be! Maybe this IS wrong? I’m self-taught! What do I know?!”.

Doubting and second guessing is so common in the photography industry, because while this a creative career… there are also very necessary technical skills that need to be learned in order to thrive. So here’s what happens . . . as a newer photographer is growing their business and getting comfortable in their own skin as a professional, they may be finding their own creative style, but because there is so much to learn technically, they crumble and doubt their approach when someone tells them that they SHOULD be doing something differently.

Let me encourage any of you who have been told you’re doing something wrong…. if you’re LOVING your work and you’re passionate about what you’re creating, then you’re in a good place. Chances are, you’re being advised to do something that is going to take you away from your style. My advice to you is to investigate what was said to you. In my case, my thought process looked like this:

  1. Are my skintones and exposures off? 
  2. Do I struggle editing and can’t get my images to look right?
  3. Could it be that this person giving me advice actually knows LESS than me, and my approach is perfect for my style?

After being told MULTIPLE times during my first three years in business that I “should be using flash”…. I finally decided that my response needed to be…..  “Nope! That’s not true… I KNOW EXACTLY what I’m doing and what I’m aiming for in my work! Thanks for your feedback, but I’m going to keep doing my own thing!”

I’m so thankful that I had that moment of clarity.

Can you IMAGINE what my work would have looked like if I had started using flash in my portraits!? It would NOT look like the KJ work that you have come to recognize today!

At EVERY single shoot, I have been challenged to control the light in a way that matches my style! Take a peek at some of my recent lighting situations that I’ve found myself in!!! :

No flash, no strobe…. just natural light and good decisions when it came to picking locations!!

If you have ever found yourself in a situation like I mentioned above, where you’ve doubted your approach to being a natural light photographer, my advice to you would be trust your style. However, I also encourage you to fight to become the BEST natural light photographer possible!!

My FAVORITE thing to do in situations where I’m being criticized at weddings is to show that guest our same-day slideshow! ha! They are speechless!!! Why? Because I have taught myself how to RECOGNIZE, CONTROL, AND UNDERSTAND light to work for me and my work speaks for itself!!!

We’re created our most TECHNICAL course, The KJ Lighting and Locations Course,  to help other photographers feel comfortable and confident in any lighting too! The truth is, I can only shoot images like what I posted above because I see light differently than a lot of people! I’m so excited to share my approach, my skills, and my systems with our KJ Lighting & Location Course students!!!

For some of you, you’re struggling with light AND location issues!! If you need a little pick-me-up, here’s a FREE DOWNLOAD for you that will help you take lousy locations and make them incredible portrait locations!!!! Enjoy!!

Grab Your Copy of “5 Ways to Transform Lousy Portrait Locations” Here! 

Ps. If you’re a photographer that LOVES flash! That’s great!!! Turn this situation around and apply it to your situation in reverse. If someone came up to you and said “Um, you don’t need to be using flash, it would look better without it!” but you LOVE the look of OCF combined with natural light, I would hope that you would stand up for what you love in your work and not let that comment bother you! I love GLOW over bright blue skies and I prefer blurry background over crisp clouds in the sky! Figure out what you love and stick with it, no matter what critics say!

And in case we haven’t officially met!

xoxo, Katelyn
1 Comment Ask Anything, Blog
  1. Paul reply

    Just got sent to this link by an email…
    Interesting: and sad you get treated that way.

    But I, too, get insulted by my (these) fellow hobbyists (usually with the best Canon, Nikon, or Sony gear), but that’s because I shoot Micro Four Thirds. Also, I have never used a flash (even though I bought one, thinking I’d need it), as the light, even if bounced, to me, looks fake or contrived.

    As a photographer myself, even though not commercial, if anything, it gives me the insight to appreciate the job of the paid photographer and not getting in their way or adding to their stress. If anything, it makes me sympathetic, and make sure I don’t spoil their shot. (In many cases today, there are so many people with mobile phones hovering around, the subjects don’t know who to look at first, and so groups are often looking in all directions!).

    These “photographers” you mention, argue (as you’d expect) only full frame is of any use owing to the “poor low light performance” of MFT (something I’m constantly told, and ridiculed about, as they flash their Canon 5D MkIV at me, for example).

    “Low light performance” is unquestionably true in terms of technical specs. on paper, but it depends what you do with it, and your creativity in dealing with these supposed “limitations”, as to whether it’s “poor” or not.

    What’s more, I take candid photos at weddings (as the MFT kit is so small you stay invisible) and events of friends/family – indoors – sometimes at very high ISO, but some of my photos have been liked more than the person they’d paid with all the gear, owing to their intimacy and/or dynamism. This is mainly as I shoot events or weddings like street photography (my hobby), which makes for a very different image style, and demands constant attention to what’s happening and dealing with complex lighting situations at speed.

    For me, and the photos I take at events/weddings, it’s all about capturing the emotion, expression, body position, even motion blur on the dance floor, which expresses the mood and story of what’s taking place.

    However good the gear, or whether using flash or not, if the angle of any part of the body, or the angle of the lips, if in conversation, are not “just right”, then the photo looks crap.

    That, for me, is the fun and the challenge of photography: but I can afford to enjoy myself and muck about and experiment, as I’m not being paid, and it’s my choice even if I share them with people afterwards: a luxury you don’t have, unfortunately…

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