Take better images with your digital camera's flash (Feature)
By Jay Dougherty Apr 10, 2010, 3:06 GMT
Washington - Light is the essence of photography. That's why most digital cameras have a flash or a shoe mount where an accessory flash can be placed.
Flash photography, though, is anything but self-explanatory. Use a flash improperly, and your images can take on a garish, overexposed look. Use a flash properly, and you can turn an otherwise drab photograph into something worth cherishing.
Here are some sure-fire tips to make your photography better through creative use of flash.
--- Use a flash outdoors
There's a common misconception that flash photography is intended for indoor use only. In fact, using a flash outdoors can help you accomplish some important goals. It can set your subject off from the background, and it can lighten shadows that would otherwise obscure features of the scene or person you're photographing.
Just as important, using flash outdoors can ensure that the people in your photographs have pleasing and accurate skin tones, since your camera won't have to 'guess' at how to adjust its internal colour settings - or white balance - because it is pre-calibrated for flash photography.
Compact digital cameras, though, typically will not automatically use a flash outdoors because the cameras will sense that there's enough light to get a decently exposed image. So you'll probably need to activate the flash manually.
Consult your instructor's manual regarding how to do this. Usually, the flash can be activated with a simple push of a button.
To see the difference that flash outdoors can make, experiment with photographing a person standing in front of a brightly lit background, such as an ocean or other bright area.
Without a flash, the person will appear underexposed, whereas the flash version will highlight the person, rather than the background.
--- Bounce the light
The main problem with built-in flashes on digital cameras is that they fire in only one direction: straight ahead. The resulting flash pictures from these cameras often have areas of overexposure where the flash hits the subject. This problem is especially noticeable when your subject is very close to the camera.
The solution is to 'bounce' your flash, when possible, off of a ceiling or wall so that the light hits your subject indirectly, or to use some kind of diffuser in front of the flash to soften the light.
The resulting photographs will not only look more natural and evenly lit, but you will also be able to eliminate such common problems as 'red eye,' in which your subjects appear to have an unnatural red dot in the middle of their eyes - a result of straight- on flash photography with built-in flashes.
Of course, to bounce flash off a wall, you'll need an accessory or shoe-mounted flash, and not all digital cameras accept these. Those with dedicated built-in flashes have come up with some novel ways to bounce the light or make it more diffuse.
Those include a home-made light diffuser (http://bit.ly/cqtYrh), consisting of paper or semi-transparent material placed in front of the flash. But you can also purchase commercial light diffusers, including the Lumiquest Soft Screen (http://www.lumiquest.com/softscreen.htm).
--- Light a large scene
The built-in flash that comes with many digital cameras often does not emit enough light to illuminate a large room or a larger group of people. Even more powerful accessory flashes can fall short.
There are a couple of ways you can get more out of your flash, regardless of which type you use. One way is to increase your camera's ISO setting.
The ISO setting essentially controls how much light your camera needs to take a properly exposed picture. The higher the ISO, the less light needed. Increasing the ISO can effectively increase the amount of space that your flash can effectively cover.
Experiment with different ISO settings in a scene that you plan to photograph. But don't increase the ISO to a higher rating than you need. That's because the downside of high ISOs is the introduction of increasing levels of digital noise.
The other way is by using an external flash with a wireless hotshoe-mounted trigger.
These trigger devices tell your flash to fire when you press the shutter button. Placing the external flash itself closer to the subjects will place more light where it is needed.
To use this method, you'll need a camera that accepts a hotshoe- mounted flash, as well as a wireless trigger. All of the big camera makers - including Canon and Nikon - sell these parts.
--- Get connected
Taking better digital images with flash is a learning process, so avail yourself of the many resources on the internet for learning more about using your camera with flash.
There are dedicated lighting discussion boards at all of the major photography forums: Photo.net, dpreview.com, FredMiranda.com, and PhotoCamel.com.
There, you'll find not only valuable discussions about how to improve your photographs with flash but also before and after examples. And you can ask your own questions as well. The bottom line is this: pay attention to how your digital photographs are lit, and you'll end up with photos worth keeping and sharing.