Using your flash properly


A lot of talking about new cameras lately, I even lost sight of the fact that any camera is perfect if you have a bit of talent and a good scene to shoot. So back to basic, whatever camera you have is perfect enough, and probably has a flash.

However few people use their flash properly so let's go thru some basics.

Let's put aside the case when the room is pitch black. No one should ever shoot in those conditions, but if you're trying to catch you dog eating at night in the kitchen to show your kids, flash is the only way. It will also give your dog those superb zombie looking eyes, plenty of ugly shadows everywhere etc. Lovely. Well actually pronounced shadows can be cool too, I used it for what I call "trashflash" fashionista shootings. It's just that is most cases you probably want to avoid it.

A bit of trash flash doesn't hurt if it works with your concept. Nikon D80, 35mm f.5.6.

Now let's assume it a bright sunny day. Most people turn off the flash completely, and that is a bad idea. But whyyy Oh Lord? Whhyyyy using the flash when thou shall give us plenty of light already? (to ask on your knees looking at the sky with a theatrical voice). Well simply because when there is plenty of sun, you are either taking picture of people that are facing it, or turning their backs to it. Sideways is just a variation of one of those two configurations :)

  • if your subject faces the sun, what happens? Plenty of ugly shadows on his face.
  • if you subject turns his back to the sun? he comes out all dark unless you've read this post. But then how can you have both the background and the subject getting the proper amount of light?

This is why our camera have those tiny flashes. For fill light.

Fill light consists in, as the words suggest, fill shadows with light to even the amount of light receive by a subject. 

If you got sun in your face, it will remove shadows on the face. The side effect of that is that sort of glossy magazine look, as if the subject was added to the picture. But it looks very clean and removes blemishes on the face.

On the left, shadows on the face are quite strong due to facial features. Compare to the right with fill light. (courtesy of Tom Grill)

If the sun is behind the subject, if will compensate the back light so that both the subject and the background are properly lit.

Back light, no fill light (courtesy of photoflexlightingschool)

 With fill light

Small built in flashes are not to do actual flash photography. First of all they are far too weak to do so. Even a big expensive flash can't do better than a small group of people a few meters away. And even if, it is still directional light creating shadows. If you ever wanted to light things up big time, you'd need proper strobes with light modifiers, and that's an all new world.

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