First of all, I’d like to thank Nick for replacing my stuffed horse as a subject during our lunch break.
Here is a set of photos shot indoors. The camera was set to program mode and the pop-up flash was left at 0-flash compensation. Let’s play around with the camera’s exposure first – remember that this affects the ambient light.
As you can see, the first image was purely metered by the camera, the result isn’t bad at all, the subject and background are pretty well exposed. If we add 2-stops of exposure compensation, the flash was still able to expose the subject reasonably well (but with more exposure due to more ambient coming in) but the background is now over-exposed. In the last shot, we took off 2-stops of ambient exposure, the resulting image had the background in proper exposure, while the flash tries to expose for the subject. While the 3rd image is darker than the previous 2, it’s still a relatively proper subject exposure.
Let’s play around the FLASH exposure this time. Based on the images above, I told myself “hey, 0EC gives me the kind of background I want for this shot!”, so let’s go with that ambient setting of “0EC” and play with flash settings.
Look at the images above, since I’m only 3ft away from the subject, 0FEC looks OK but I don’t quite like how the subject’s forehead and nose reflects the light. If I added 2-stops of flash compensation, the subject is just filled with light, but look how the ambient remains the same. Finally, I dialled down the flash at -2FEC, the light is less harsh and the highlights are not as harsh as the 0FEC example.
Now let’s take this outside!
The camera was set to shutter priority at 1/200 per second while the pop-up flash was used at it’s default setting of 0 FEC. The camera exposed the ambient pretty well with only the upper right corner’s highlight being overexposed while the flash exposed Nick’s head pretty accurately.
With the second shot, I wanted to overexpose the ambient to create a higher-key shot with minimal shadows. The flash is almost not necessary at this point but it was still responsible for filling some shadows and adding that little catch-light in Nick’s eyes.
With the last shot, we can turn high-noon into night! By reducing exposure by 2-stops, the ambient turned dark due to underexposure while the flash exposes the subject perfectly. See how the shirt and cigarette stayed white and not over-exposed.
Here’s a final example with a more contrasty scene. I’m shooting upwards so a lot of sky and building reflection affects the overall exposure.
In first image (top-right), I wanted to keep the sky and building’s details, so I tried using -2 exposure compensation without flash. The result gave me reasonable exposure of the background with no highlight overexposure, but the subject is too dark and the whole image lacks dynamic range.
In the next image (top-left), since I still want to retain the building and sky details, I left the ambient exposure at -2EV, but now I popped the flash so I can expose Nick with more detail, the result is an improvement from the first one.
If we want to make the flash less evident, we can increase the background’s exposure by increasing our camera’s exposure compensation. In the third image, I dialed-in +1EC, which resulted to the building and the sky’s highlights to be overexposed.
In the final image, I decided to sacrifice the sky, but maintain the building’s exposure by using 0EC for the ambient, and reduce image 2’s flash exposure a little to make everything look more natural.
There’s no way I can retain the highlights and expose the subject in such a way without flash (unless I use additional props like reflectors).
I hope our final installment of Shedding Light on Flash will make you utilize your pop-up flash more, especially during daytime.