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Mastering Flash Photography

Friday, November 16th, 2007 by | Filed Under: Digital Photography

Mastering Flash Photography

Flash photography isn’t easy to master. And on top of that, if you have a hopeless flash, it makes matters even worse. But don’t worry! If you follow the easy tips I have for you today, you can overcome low light conditions and ensure that your pictures will be worthy enough to be included in your photo album. Okay, so let’s go over some strategies and techniques you can use to master flash photography!

Keep Your Distance

One of the simplest ways to decrease the impact of the light coming from your flash is to put a little more distance between you and your subject. Many of the blowout flash shots are simply because the photographers are too close to their subjects. Now, stepping away from your subject doesn’t mean you can’t fill the frame. You can use your camera’s zoom lens or you can simply crop the shot later on your computer!

Scatter the Light

If your DSLR camera doesn’t allow you to have any control over how much light it puts out, you may want to consider manually making some changes that limit or diffuse the light coming out of your camera. However, point and shoot camera owners can stick a little piece of white tissue paper or cello tape over their flash. Just remember though, the color of the material you use will affect the color of the light that comes out of your flash (and therefore, the color that will be cast on the scene of your picture). White tape or tissue paper will give a more natural light than red or blue.

Use Reflected Light

Another strategy dedicated flash users will often use is to redirect or bounce the light coming out of their flash off of another surface. They are able to do this, because some flash units can be swiveled and shot into different directions. Point and shoot camera users can’t do that. Instead, they can take a small piece of a white card and place it at an angle in front of the flash so that the flash is redirected onto the ceiling of the room (or even sideways onto a wall). Again, the color of both the card you use and the ceiling or wall you’re bouncing the light off of will affect the color cast in your shot.

Use Slower Shutter Speed

Most point and shoot cameras have a cool option on their dial called “night mode.” This mode tells the camera to use a technique called “slow sync flash.” It basically means taking a shot with a slower shutter speed, while still shooting with the flash. This means you get a little more ambient light from the scene, while still freezing the action with the flash. The shots taken in this mode won’t give you pin-point sharp images, but they can be fun and very effective, especially if there are some nice colored lights in the room.

Decrease Flash Output

Some point and shoot cameras have the ability to tell the camera just how much flash you want it to use. This won’t be something you all have at your finger tips, but check your camera’s manual to see if you have it. If you do, dial back your flash output by a stop or two to see what impact it has. It might take a little experimentation to get the setting just right, but it can help you end up with much more natural shots!

Light Up the Scene

When you are faced with extreme low light, it’s advisable to turn on all the lights in the room you’re in or you could move your subjects to a better lit position near a lamp or other light. Another way to increase the impact of ambient light on a subject is to think about reflective light. For example, photographing someone standing next to a white wall, as opposed to a black wall, will mean that any ambient light in the room will be bounced onto them (this is similar to having your own reflector).

Tweak Your Camera Settings

One last way to decrease the impact light has on a scene is to tweak some of your camera’s exposure settings, particularly those that affect how the camera treats light, such as ISO and Aperture. If your camera allows you to change any of those settings, that could be very helpful. If you increase the ISO setting, you will increase the camera’s sensitivity to light. That means the ambient light in the room will have more effect and you’ll have less need for flash. As you increase the aperture of your camera, you increase the size of the hole in your lens and more light is able to get in quickly. So, increasing the aperture (this means decreasing the f/number) can be something you can try for different effects.

Good luck in getting your flash just right!

~ Zahid H. Javali

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