The flash on digital cameras can be a friend or foe. It is important to understand when best to use it, and conversely when not to use it, for the best results in your pictures.
In essence, a camera flash is there to compensate for a lack of light. And since light is the building block of all images, it makes sense to get that aspect of your picture taking right. There are some basic rules when it comes to flash photography and also a few tricks that can enhance a picture or add some very special effects.
Firstly, take the time to understand the power of your flash. It has happened to us all – we’ve taken pictures at a party and our subject’s faces are virtually “blown away” by a big blast of flash because we were standing too close. On the other side of the coin, we have also ended up with images where the subjects are virtually black shadows because the photographer was standing too far away.
The range of your in-built flash is going to depend on the model of your camera. The camera’s instruction manual should list the flash range, but if not, as a general rule work on a 3 to 4 metre buffer, or stand five steps away from your subject.
It’s also important to know when to use your flash. This is something that will take practice, but with time you will be able to judge the light fairly accurately. If you’re not sure, take a photo with and without the flash. Don’t be scared to use the flash outdoors as well. This can be particularly beneficial if the sun is behind the subject and will eliminate shadows on faces.
Photo: J. Star
An external flash is worth considering for that extra illumination. Digital SLRs, such as Canon cameras, will have a mount on top for an external flash that can have a range of up to 15 metres or more, making it great if you are taking photos indoors from a distance. Many point-and-shoot cameras also have a mount for an external flash.
An added advantage of external flashes is that you can bounce the light it produces. This means rather than getting a direct burst onto the subject, it can be a more subtle or targeted application of light. Trying bouncing it off a wall or the ceiling. You will find that most external flashes can be configured to point in all kinds of directions, so feel to try different combinations of angles and bouncing.
One of the best pieces of advice when it comes to flash photography is to not use flash at all. While this may sound contradictory, a lack of light can also produce some very different results. In most situations you should be able to find adequate light without having to rely on the flash for help, but it’s nice to know that it’s there if you need it. Don’t depend on the flash, rather use it when it’s required.