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Shedding Light on Flash – Part 2

by David Tong

Continued from my previous article, Shedding Light on Flash – Part 1.

I discussed about using flash to lift up shadows in high contrast scenes and how to the camera’s exposure and the flash’s exposure are separate in my previous post. Now we’ll provide some short examples on how to control flash and camera exposure indoors, in close quarters.

We’ve all experienced taking flash photos that made our subject look like a shocked deer in front of an approaching car at night. It’s not flattering, it looks amateurish, it robs the environment of its atmosphere. The problem increases for dark-haired subjects as the hair will just blend with the dark background with no separation.Remember how the camera controls the ambient, and the flash controls the subject’s exposure. Always keep that in mind.

If you’re close to your subject, dial the flash way down while slow down the shutter speed and/or open up the aperture to allow more ambient light in. That’s something you have to keep in mind.

Note: All images in this article used a built-in flash, not external flash. You’ll benefit more with an external flash unit, read more about why a flash is useful in my “Get a Flash First to Improve Your Photos” article.

The next 2 photos were taken inside a food court. While there were several halogen lights scattered near our table, the ambient was still pretty dark. Flash has to be used or I’ll have to settle for shutter speeds slower than 1/5sec, which will be a bit slow to freeze motion.

Notice that there are very minimal hotspots on the subject, even on reflective surfaces like the plastic and cup. The shadows behind the subject are not overly harsh, while the background ambient registered adequately without becoming totally dark.

The distance between the camera and the subject was less than 3 feet with both shots. Flash was dialed down to reduce output.

If you’re in a really low light situation, then you’ll need to bump up your flash in order for it to reach your subject, especially if the subject is positioned over 3-5ft from the camera.

The following photo was taken late at night during this year’s Chinese New Year celebrations, there were no ambient light other than the normal street lights positioned 20ft above us and spillover light from the left of the camera (note where the light is coming from on the other subjects behind us).

The ambient was metered at -1EV while the flash was bumped up to +1EV.

The next 2 shots were taken a couple of minutes apart, low-light, around 6-7PM while the sun was setting.

Both shots were taken using a Panasonic Lumix TZ-3 pocket camera. The first shot was taken using”Night Portrait” mode, which basically meant that the camera will use a longer shutter speed to expose for the ambient before filling the subject with flash – JUST LIKE WHAT WE DISCUSSED!

Second shot was taken in full-auto mode a few minutes later, see how fast the background turned black and made the scene look as if it was taken at night.

Last set of examples, these were taken on a typical vibrant, city strip. The street was still too dark for ambient-only exposures so flash had to be used to expose the subjects, but the right combination will render both the vibrant scene and the subject nicely.

I hope these two articles have helped you understand your flash a bit more. While using flash isn’t always the best solution, it does help tremendously when you can’t control the lighting at all.

(NOTE ADDED 10/24/08 – Flash – Shedding Light on Flash – Part 3, now available!)

– Dave T

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