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Basic Blunders: Flash

We’ve all been guilty of the most basic blunders in capturing images with a digital camera. I’m not sure why … perhaps as the technology gets smarter, we get dumber, relying too much on the camera and forgetting the basics.

Let’s get back to the basics. The basic blunders.

For many people, flash is a real challenge. Too many photographers come away from a shooting session with catastrophic images when they should be able to walk away with a big smile and an even bigger bag of great flash shots.


One of the problems with an on-board flash is that it sometimes does too much of the thinking for us.


Take exterior shots at night as an example: if you’re at a stadium and want to catch correctly exposed shots of the arena … turn off the flash! Hold the camera steady and you’ll get a decent shot. Help the camera even further by raising the ISO setting to 400 or even 800.

What’s happening here? If you aim your camera at an arena, flash on, the camera’s exposure system thinks it has to reduce the lens aperture and/or shutter speed to avoid overexposure. With flash turned on, sure the flash will fire at the moment of exposure, but its meagre output of light will be insufficient to illuminate the stadium.

So — turn it off!

CU flash

IMHO digital cameras should have a big red warning light that flashes when anyone attempts to shoot big close ups with the flash turned on. It just doesn’t work! There are enough challenges in shooting close up or macro subjects without throwing another rogue element into the mix.

For one thing, the flash will overexpose the close subject. For another, the flash is far too close to the lens so, even if it did not overexpose the shot, it would ‘blast’ any detail in the subject.

So, unless your camera has a method of reducing the flash’s output for working in close … turn it off.

Having lost your light source, set about creating another light source: use an aluminium foil or white card reflector. This way you can not only control the amount of light on your subject but its angel as well.

Then set your lens — if you can — at its smallest aperture to maximise depth of field.

Make sure your camera is steady.

And shoot — sans flash!

Mickey Mouse money box w flash.jpg

In these two examples you can see how the flash shot of the money box has almost washed out the detail while the ‘no flash’ shot shows attractive modelling and shape.

Outdoors Flash

On camera flash can be a major help when shooting people shots outdoors, especially so if you can vary its light output.

Set your flash to ‘forced on’. Then shoot. Experiment. Make a number of shots, varying subject distance, zoom setting and lens aperture.

The ideal approach is to stand back a bit, move the zoom lens into the telephoto range to produce a flattering ‘people shot’. By doing this you also reduce the flash’s output, as the lens aperture reduces.

The object is to create a situation where the flash ‘fills’ the portrait; doesn’t overexpose it — nor does it underexpose it.

Another trick, if you still find the flash causes overexposure is to place a slice or two of tissue over the flash. This will not only reduce the output but it will soften its light.

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Barrie Smith
Barrie Smith

is an experienced writer/photographer currently published in Australian Macworld, Auscam and other magazines in Australia and overseas.

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