Using your Camera’s Flash

Zachary B., Photography

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Lots of settings may call for the use of flash photography.  There’s the obvious dim lighting at an indoor party or the overcast day in the outdoors, but did you know that even a brightly lit day might be a good time to use your flash?  Anytime bright light creates harsh shadows or the ambient lighting appears inadequate, “pop,” it’s flash time.  Still stuck in auto flash mode?  Consider these 5 flash tips:


  1. Angle your lighting

Projecting light from a different angle from your viewfinder and lens can help eliminate flat lighting that lacks depth and causes the subject to appear dull.  With an on-camera pop-up flash this is typically what you will get.  If you have a removable flash, consider using a wireless trigger, some cost as little as $15, and holding your flash to the side.  If you don’t have a removable flash, consider the ambient lighting.  The sun, for example, is often more flattering coming from the side as opposed to directly behind your subject.


  1. Bounce light to your advantage

We all know what happens when you take your selfies in the mirror using flash.   The light bounces off the glass hitting the camera lens with similar intensity and your photo becomes a blur.  Bouncing flash off the ceiling or a sidewall however, can actually work to your advantage.  Flash pointing at the ceiling above a subject will bounce off creating a softly diffused light.  Similarly, bouncing flash off of a white sidewall can create excellent favorable side lighting on your subjects.  For the same reason, you will also want to avoid putting a subject directly in front of a white wall, since the light will bounce off creating harsh shadows.  Think bounce and diffuse, and avoid harsh reflections.


  1. Use a diffuser

          Diffusers are semi-opaque materials that scatter light in order to diffuse it in a more favorable flattering manner.  These accessories are relatively inexpensive.  You can purchase a set of them for your DSLR, iPhone, or other cell phone camera for under $5.  Some people even choose to create their own diffusers.   Before you invest try this simple experiment, tape or hold a piece of white tissue paper over your flash.  The diffuser or tissue paper should spread the light from your flash out more effectively and eliminate shadows.


  1. Control your flash intensity and get artsy

Professional cameras and even some newer updates to your camera cell phone will allow you to control the brightness or the intensity of the flash.  Flash compensation is also a huge advantage if you want to create some artistic photos.  Like the drama of a darker moodier scene?  Try quartering or halving the flash intensity to leave the photo slightly underexposed.  Looking for a silhouette effect?  Have your subject stand in front of a brightly lit window, turn your flash down, or off altogether, and have the camera focus on the larger brightly lit window.  Don’t have the flash compensation feature?  You can also try stepping back, which will naturally soften the flash.  In photography, this is known as the inverse square law, but in layman’s terms, getting closer to a subject brightens flash and moving away does the opposite.


  1. Consider hard and soft light

In general, soft light may be considered more natural equally diffused light, while hard light may be considered more dramatic light with strong contrast.  More specifically, in soft light shadows are not very visible and in hard light the opposite is occurring where bright light and shadows are strongly contrasted without much of an in-between.  Typically, a bright day will create hard light, while an overcast day will create soft light.  The good news is you can control hard and soft light with your flash by moving the flash closer or further away from the subject.  As a general rule, the further away the light is the harder it becomes.  This can be good if you are looking to add shadows that create a sense of dimension.  Soft light is the more preferred light of professional portrait photographers however, and it typically means getting the light as close as possible to the subject.  This doesn’t have to mean bright light in the subjects face, instead turning down the intensity of the light (as in rule number 4) and getting as close as possible to the subject will reduce shadows and soften textures.


Keeping these hints in mind may help you to improve your flash technique, get better photos, or increase your artistic effect.  This concludes my contributions to this year’s media section of the yawp.  I want to thank you all for reading my articles and hope that you continue to be inspired to improve and capture your favorite media moments.   Keep up the future legacy of the school news fellow yawpers and have a great summer!

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