Nikon D3500: Adjusting Your Camera’s Flash Output

By Julie Adair King

In the P, S, A, or M exposure modes, you have control over flash power on your Nikon D3500 via two options. The first setting, Flash Compensation, also works in the Portrait, Close-up, and Night Portrait Scene modes, but only if your Nikon D3500 thinks that flash is required.

Applying Flash Compensation on your Nikon D3500

When you set the Flash Control for Built-in Flash option on the Shooting menu to TTL, which is the default mode, your Nikon D3500 determines how much flash power is needed. But if you want a little more or less flash light than the camera thinks is appropriate, you can turn on Flash Compensation.

Flash Compensation settings are stated in terms of exposure value (EV) numbers. A setting of EV 0.0 indicates no flash adjustment; you can increase the flash power to EV +1.0 or decrease it to EV –3.0.

As an example of the benefit of this feature, look at the carousel images. The first image shows a flash-free shot. Clearly, a flash was needed to compensate for the fact that the horses were shadowed by the roof of the carousel. But at normal flash power, as shown in the middle image, the flash was too strong, creating glare in some spots and blowing out the highlights in the white mane. By dialing the flash power down to EV –1.0, a softer flash was achieved that straddled the line perfectly between no flash and too much flash.

Flash Compensation Nikon D3500
When normal flash output is too strong, dial in a lower Flash Compensation setting on your Nikon D3500.

As for boosting the flash output, you may find it necessary on some occasions, but don’t expect the built-in flash to work miracles even at a Flash Compensation of +1.0. The built-in flash simply isn’t capable of illuminating faraway objects. Flash range varies depending on your ISO and aperture setting; for example, at ISO 100 and an aperture of f/5.6, the flash range is just 2 to 5 feet. If you raise the ISO to 400, the flash range extends to nearly 10 feet. You can find a chart listing all the variables in the full version of the camera manual, which is downloadable from the Nikon support site. But if you don’t care to dive that deep into flash specifics, you should be okay if you assume a flash range of about 2 to 10 feet. Of course, taking a few test shots before you shoot your final images is always a good idea.

Back to Flash Compensation: The current setting appears in the Information display, as shown on the left below. In the Live View display, you see only a symbol indicating that the feature is enabled, as shown on the right side. Note that if the feature is turned off (set to EV 0.0), the symbol doesn’t appear in the Live View display.

Flash Compensation symbols Nikon D3500
These symbols represent Flash Compensation.

In the P, S, A, and M exposure modes, use either of these tricks on your Nikon D3500:

  • Use the two-button-plus-Command-dial maneuver. First, press the Flash button to raise the built-in flash, if it’s not already up. Then press and hold the Flash button and the Exposure Compensation button simultaneously. When you press the buttons, the Flash Compensation value becomes highlighted in the Information and Live View displays. In the viewfinder, the current setting takes the place of the usual Frames Remaining value. While keeping both buttons pressed, rotate the Command dial to adjust the setting.
    Command dial Nikon D3500
    Rotate the Command dial while pressing the Flash and Exposure Compensation buttons to adjust the flash power on your Nikon.
  • Use the control strip. Just press the i button to activate the control strip, and then use the Multi Selector to highlight the Flash Compensation setting, as shown on the left below. Press OK to display a screen where you can set the compensation amount, as shown on the second screen of the figure.
    adjust flash with Nikon D3500 control strip
    You also can adjust the setting by using the normal control-strip method.

In the Portrait, Close-up, and Night Portrait Scene modes, you can take advantage of Flash Compensation when the Flash mode is set to a Flash mode other than Off. But remember that in those Scene modes, the only other available Flash modes have “Auto” attached to their name – which means that the camera decides whether flash is needed to adequately light the subject. Press the shutter button halfway, and if the flash pops up, you can use the same techniques just outlined to set the Flash Compensation amount. (You can set the Flash Compensation amount via the control strip regardless of whether the flash is up, but doing so doesn’t accomplish a darned thing if the camera dictates that flash isn’t needed for the shot.)

Any flash-power adjustment you make in P, S, A, or M mode remains in force until you reset the value, even if you turn off the camera. So be sure to check the setting before you next use the flash. With the Scene modes, the Flash Compensation setting is returned to EV 0.0 if you change exposure modes or turn off the camera.

Controlling flash output manually on the Nikon D3500

If you’re experienced in the way of the flash, you can manually set flash output via the Flash Cntrl for Built-in Flash option, found on the Shooting menu. This feature is available only in the P, S, A, and M exposure modes.

manual flash output Nkon D3500
Using this option, you can control the flash output manually.

The normal setting is TTL (for automatic, through-the-lens metering), but if you select Manual, as shown on the right above, and then press the Multi Selector right, you can access the power settings, which range from Full to 1/32 power.

When flash is set to manual control, the TTL icon that normally appears in the upper-right corner of the Information display is replaced by the letter M. In the viewfinder and Live View display, you see an icon that looks just like the Flash Compensation symbol (lightning bolt with a plus-minus sign). But when manual flash power is engaged, the symbol blinks.

Exposure metering modes and flash output on the Nikon D3500

When the camera calculates how much flash power your subject requires, it does so based on your exposure metering mode. The metering mode determines which part of the frame the Nikon considers when making exposure decisions:

  • In matrix (whole frame) and center-weighted modes, flash power is adjusted to expose the picture using a balance of ambient light and flash light. Nikon uses the term i-TTL Balanced Fill Flash for this technology. The i stands for intelligent; again, the TTL means that the camera calculates exposure by reading the light that’s coming through-the-lens. The balanced fill part refers to the fact that the flash is used to fill in shadow areas, while brighter areas are exposed by the available light, resulting (usually) in a pleasing balance of the two light sources.
  • In spot-metering mode, the camera assumes that you’re primarily interested in a single area of the frame, so it calculates flash power and overall exposure based on that point, without much regard for the background. This mode is Standard i-TTL Flash.

Check out these other Nikon features when you’re stuck inside on a rainy day.