Using Flash

We highly recommend using manual settings on your camera to maintain full control of the results, but if you do happen to switch to the Auto setting, you’ll notice that the flash is almost always on. If the camera’s software is supposed to choose the optimal settings for a perfect picture, why does it always use the flash? Maybe the camera knows something you don’t???

In Auto mode the flash automatically fires if your camera determines that the scene is too dark. This limits your control over how your pictures look. At other times, the flash won’t fire when it should because the camera determined that the subject is too far away. To fully control the flash, your camera needs to be in Programmed, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, or Manual mode. If nothing else, our courses should teach you how to gain full control of your camera by using the Manual mode.

There are no golden rules when using flash. Flash is something you have to experiment with. Try a picture with the flash on. If the picture is too dark or too light, turn the flash off.  The owner’s manual that came with your camera should state the flash range. The flash works best within a certain range. If you’re too close, the picture will show too much light. If you’re too far away, the subject will be too dark. Most flashes don’t work beyond 10 feet but some of the newer models might be good for twice that range.

Flash sometimes helps when your subject is ‘backlit.’  Backlit simply means the subject has a light source (such as the sun) behind it. Turning on the flash will help equalize the light. We’ve all taken pictures of someone standing away from the sun. The subject looks dark.  Some people like the silhouette effect but there are times when you want a perfectly-lit subject.

Flash often helps fill in shadows. Shadows create dark pockets that will appear black in your pictures. If you’re close enough to the subject, try the flash. It might completely remove the shadow or at least lessen it.  Using flash to equalize shadows is often called ‘flash fill.’ The flash fills the shadow and equalizes the picture.

Every digital single lens reflex camera has a maximum shutter speed at which the camera can synchronize with the flash. This is called the flash-sync speed. The speed should be listed in your camera’s manual. Many cameras use a flash-sync speed of 1/250th of a second. Of course, you can manually override the speed by simply switching your camera to Manual. The Manual setting provides full control of your camera.

Using your camera’s Auto mode limits the flash range. The Manual mode allows you to extend the flash range. Remember, the aperture, shutter speed, and ISO all affect how much light is let into the lens. You can increase the effective range of the flash by raising the ISO. You can increase the effective range of the flash by switching to a larger f-stop (smaller number.) You can increase the effective range of the flash by lowering the shutter speed. All three factors will increase the range of the flash. If you’re trying to photograph a subject that’s beyond your camera’s flash range, try adjusting the aperture, shutter speed, or ISO. You might be amazed at the difference.

Camera flash is considered to be through-the-lens or TTL. You camera’s tiny little computer chooses the flash setting that it thinks is the best. At times you might want to increase or decrease the amount of flash. Most cameras allow you to adjust the flash. If in doubt, read your camera’s manual. Most cameras allow you to increase or decrease the amount of flash in 1/3 increments. If you need more flash, try increasing the output by 1/3. For less flash, decrease the output by 1/3. As a photographer wanting the best shot possible, you should always be willing to experiment with the camera’s settings.

We’re all familiar with red-eye.  The red color comes from blood vessels at the back of the subject’s eyes. Most often (but not always) red-eye occurs in people with fair skin and/or blue eyes. Some photographers just shoot away and remove red-eye with an editing program. There are ways to reduce red-eye with the camera.

Most red-eye is caused by the flash being so fast, the subject’s  pupils can’t close fast enough to avoid the light. Light is reflected from the back of the eyes back to the camera lens. If you have a decent camera, it should have a red-eye reduction feature. Make sure to turn it on! The red-eye feature causes the camera to send out a quick pulse of light that causes the subject’s pupils to constrict. The flash then fires while the pupils are constricted.

Receive a free Certificate of Completion for this photography course. Pass a 40-question test on this course with a score of 70 or higher and receive a certificate of completion. Visit our Basics of Digital Photography Certificate of Completion page for more information.

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