So, the question is, when do you use flash photography and when do you not? And the other question is, how do you use flash photography successfully and get well-lit photographs?
Fill Flash. One of the most useful and easy ways of achieving a better photo is using flash to fill shadows in a photo taken in bright sunlight. This is called fill flash. With your subject in the sun, you may see dark shadows in the person’s eye sockets, for example, if your subject is a person. With your camera on automatic, turn your flash on and take your photo. Have a look at it on your LCD. The flash may be too bright and give an unnatural look but on most cameras you can adjust this by underexposing the flash (not underexposing the general exposure). If you’re not sure how to do this, look up “flash exposure compensation” in your camera manual. Experiment until you get a pleasing look with the shadows filled but the photo still looking natural, you’ve got it. You’ll get the bonus of catchlights in the subject’s eyes which add a sparkle.
Low Light On-camera Flash Photography. This is the use of flash photography which takes more care if you want to get photos that are well lit and look natural. If you use the flash unit built-in to your camera and the light is too low to shoot without flash, you have little choice but to point the camera and flash at your subject and press the button. Beware of having the subject stand close to a wall or other background as you will get a harsh, black shadow all the way around them which looks most unnatural. Stand them a little further away from the background so you avoid that shadow. If the shot looks too bright and “flashy”, try using the flash exposure compensation if your camera has it, and reduce the flash exposure slightly.
If you have a separate flash unit, you should be able to “bounce” the flash. For example, if you have a reasonably low, white ceiling, instead of simply aiming the camera and flash at your subject, aim the camera at the subject but adjust the flash unit so that it is pointing at the ceiling in such a way that the light is reflected from the ceiling onto your subject. Because the ceiling is a much larger source of light than the flash unit, the result is a much softer, less harsh lighting that is actually quite acceptable. It doesn’t have to be the ceiling you bounce the flash off. It can be a wall to the side or behind you if the flash head on your electronic flash unit will rotate through the necessary angle to be able to point it at the surface in such a way that the light reflects on to your subject.
Of course you can get much more sophisticated with electronic flash, with stand alone units, umbrellas and soft boxes, but that will be the subject of further articles on flash photography. For now these few basics should help you get started with flash photography and may help you with any immediate problems you might have been running into in flash photography.
David © Phillips is a professional writer and photographer living in Seattle, WA. You can find out more about him and his work at www.dcpcom.com. Photograph(s) in this article are © David C Phillips, All Rights Reserved.