Flashed Away

I want to finish up my thoughts about flash photography which I started in my previous post, so I hope you not so technical minded will have me excused one more time – even if it’s going to be less hardcore technical this time. I promise it will be a long time till next before I will do it again. So as to not make it completely worthless to have passed by, I have laid out a handful of pictures to show what you can achieve by using the little shoe mounted flash. I hope those of you who don’t care about technique at least will be able to enjoy those pictures.

Last time I gave the theory behind getting the most out of the flash – and did so by explaining how to use the camera in manual mode. Today I will continue with some thoughts about using flash in automatic mode. One should actually assume that it would be easier and faster – and to some extent it is, but at the same time I have found that it’s impossible to predict how the cameras «think». And unfortunately one camera «thinks» differently than another in automatic flash mode, and one brand seems to «thinks» differently than another. So when going automatic, it’s unavoidable with some trial and error first time out. Anyway the basic idea when going automatic is that the camera itself will do the necessary calculations, as soon as you have put in the ratio of exposure between available light and flash light. Remember the trick to get interesting flash pictures when using a shoe mounted (or handheld) flash is to combine available light with flash light.

On a basic level most cameras «think» that whatever exposure compensation you dial in on the camera will affect the whole exposure – the combined exposure of the two light sources that is, while exposure compensation dialled in on the flash itself will only affect the flash light. So to return to the two basic setups from my last posting: If you want to equally blend available light and flash light, you actually don’t do anything, because the camera will automatically take care of the mix and adjust the exposure – which means underexpose both so as to make the combination come out correctly. The only thing you need to do is make sure the exposure mode of the camera is not set to program, P, green, red or complete automatic mode – whatever you camera has available for you. This will only set the shutter speed to the sync speed for flash photography and thus result in those regular ugly flash photos with a washed out foreground and a completely black background. My advice is to set the mode to aperture priority which means you yourself set the aperture before taking a photo and the camera automatically takes care of shutter speed. Setting the camera to aperture priority mode makes sure your camera can adjust the exposure to any available light situations. If necessary it can use 1 second or it can use 1/1000 of a second when that is necessary. By the way don’t worry about long exposure time when using flash. The flash will anyway freezes the subject and whatever movement cause by the available light exposure will only add some interesting features to the picture.

One more thing: You need to make sure the camera’s focusing point is locked onto the subject in the front when the reading of the flash exposure and the focusing point is connected. Otherwise the amount of flash light on the subject will probably be way too much since the focusing point may be set on the background.

Now to the other set-up I mentioned last time; fill-in flash or using the flash to lighten up dark shadows. In automatic mode you set the flash to -2 or two exposure values down. That’s it, and the camera will supposedly take care of the rest. In another word, you use the exposure compensation on the flash to adjust the ration between available light and flash light, while the exposure compensation on the camera will affect the combined exposure. That is; if you want to make the combined exposure lighter or darker you use the exposure compensation on the camera. If you want to increase or decrease the amount of flash light relative to available light you use the exposure compensation on the flash.

What if you only have a point-and-shoot camera? Can you get interesting flash pictures with those cameras? Quite few actually have a so-called slow sync flash setting, which will do exactly what I have talked about here. You just don’t have equal amount of possibilities to adjust particularly the ratio of light between available and flash light.

One last point: If you use your camera in manual mode and use the built-in exposure meter, be aware of the fact that when you turn on the flash it will most likely adjust the readings to compensate for the added flash. So if you want to work manually, you need to meter the exposure of available light before switching on the flash.


55 thoughts on “Flashed Away

  1. I’m so impress of the outcome of your works using the proper “flash” technique. So clear, crisp and more importantly it captures the person’s emotions and personality in a realistic kind of way. Gives us a sense of “larger than life,” feeling…Just amazing pictures that makes you think of the issues in the World around us….Best wishes to you and your family…

  2. I agree with Ginnie. This is a wonderful post and I always take notes. And I loved these photographs, especially number 4 fascinated me. Thank you dear Otto, have a nice week, with my love, nia

  3. Great collection of photographs. You are a talented person. But the best thing about you is, unlike others you are sharing your talent and your knowledge of photography with all of us. As I always write in my comments, you are an inspiration for all of us.

  4. This is such a timely post for me as I am now trying to educate myself with flash photography. The part that is difficult for me is I shoot horses and they move a lot. But I will just have to figure that out. Thanks for all the information you share.

  5. Great post and information. I always avoid using flash but after reading and seeing your photos, it can see it can be fun too. Really liked these photos, nicely captured. I especially liked 4th, 5th and the last. Thanks for this, Otto. Have a great time. 🙂

  6. Interestingly, I kept reviewing the first four images thinking … what will this post be about? How will he link these images? – thus never thinking the post was about lighting and flash. 🙂 Well done!

  7. Informative post and great to see such beautiful images in concert. I have an old digital Nikon body with a pop-up flash that I gave to my son, and he has turned out some beautiful images while taking snapshots with the fill flash on. Nice to be reminded of how useful it is. I should employ it more often! Thank you!

  8. Great post with wonderful examples! I am just at the beginning of experimenting with my shoe mounted flash, but have been a little bit resistant, since I generally (well, always) shoot without a flash. This gives me some encouragement to jump in! Thank you so much for posting this! I’m sure I’ll be referring back to it many times!

  9. I admire your bravery at attempting to explain flash function in a blog post. I spent a good many years training photographers to shoot weddings and would consistently find that proper flash use is one of the hardest things for new photographers to get their heads around. Nice post!

  10. Wow! I really like how you have shared your expertise of flash photography in a very understandable, simplistic way. I’m not a professional photographer at all. It’s strictly point and-shoot for me! So, I appreciate you including it in your post Otto. That being said, this is my kind of post. Plus, I really have an appreciation for your work. 🙂

    It truly amazes me how much we can learn about different cultures through photography. Words can’t always express what a single photo can capture. It gives me a much stronger sense of the various cultures of the world. And your photos do that beautifully! Have a wonderful week. 🙂

  11. Really interesting blog – flash photography has never been my strong point and it was great reading your tips. The photos are fantastic! look forward to reading your other articles.

  12. I have had a long day but your superb photos tell me I need to come back in the clearer light of day to explore the technical details you have so generously set out here and previously. What I have always loved about your photos is the dimension/perspective in each one, as though the subject is about to walk to me, through my screen, leaving the background behind. Or, I am there with them, in the room. ie I can feel the space behind them.

  13. Absoutely wonderful photos, you certainly know how to use flash. It is something that I could never master. Maybe after reading your expert post, I will try again. Thanks Otto.

  14. I would really like to learn to be a better photographer, so I do read and appreciate your tutorial. I think I just need to read more than once to retain! Your photos are wonderful and I’m going to encourage my son, a very good photographer, to read your blog. He also enjoys travel, and I think you have such interesting perspectives from your well-traveled life! Debra

  15. I want to thank you all for so much positive feedback and beautiful words. I thank each and everyone of you, even if I don’t literally do so on this post. You are such an encouragement. Thanks. 🙂

  16. More excellent info, & beautiful photos. I am saving all this for future reference as I hope to get a digital SLR at some point. (or who knows, I may just dig out the old 35 mm—-if I can still buy film!)

    Thanks for your generosity in sharing your techniques.

  17. Otto, I enjoy your photos immensely. If I could teleport to your side, this dyslexic would beg you to demonstrate!

    I’d get you do the settings just once. I’d take that photo – then brag about it forever! 😀

  18. This is a great collection of flash photography done properly – normally I tuned out when people discuss flash, since it’s not really my thing, but this post was practical and easy to understand, and the pictures amply demonstrate why it’s sometimes worth your while to use flash.

  19. Otto, thank you so much for sharing your knowledge on flash photography in such easily understandable terms. This winter I dug out my flash and have been trying to get a feel for using it since the available light has been so dim. In light of the popularity of available light photography, external flash has become somewhat of a dirty word. You have shown by your wonderful photo examples how wonderful the results of flash photography can be in the hands of someone with knowledge and experience. After re-reading your post, I will readjust my camera ( think my flash comp was only at -2/3 for use as fill flash) and see how that affects things, as well as try the other adjustments. Here in the northern climates, being able to add light effectively will be a very useful skill for almost two thirds of the year. Thanks again for all your generous info and inspiration. Now it’s on to some experimentation photographing in some dark barns during our lambing season.

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