Flash for the Night

Kullgruvearbeider ferdig med dagens skift

Last week in my series of simple, practical tips to enhance your photography, I wrote about using flash to accentuate contrast, colour saturation and draw the focus to the main object within the frame. In the post I also made a point of not using the on-camera flash when you would usually think of using it, that is when the subject is dark and badly lit. Usually that will only result in – when for instance photographing people – people in the foreground being burned out completely by the flash light with white faces and every thing else in the background going pitch black.

The technique for using the on-camera flash for some special effects that I mentioned in A Flashy Look, I pointed out was only to be applied in daylight, not when it’s dark. However I wasn’t telling the whole truth then, because the same technique can actually be used when it’s dark. You just have to be aware of the side effect that comes with this technique.

Because you are mixing available light and flash with this technique the shutter speed will often be longer than what is usually recommend for handheld camera use. Of course you can crank up the ISO-setting, but then maybe you don’t need the flash at all. So, once again this technique is best for achieving some special effects. The effect when using it in darker environments or when it’s dark is a combination of a subject that appears both ghost-like and rendered sharply at the same time. The reason is the combination of a longer shutter speed and a very short burst of flash light. The former renders the subject blurred while the latter render is frozen and sharp. The two shapes then seem to be superimposed on top of each other.

The technique is exactly the same as I explained in the post A Flashy Look. Select Aperture Priority mode on your camera (although other modes may work too, but that differs from one camera to another). If you have a point and shoot camera, put the mode to slow sync. Turn on the flash, shoot and let the camera do the rest. Because you choose either Aperture Priority mode or slow sync the camera will set the camera speed so you get a correct exposure of the available light in combination with the light from the flash.

Usually when shooting handheld you are recommended to not use a slower shutter speed than either 1/125 of a second or 1/60 of a second, because of possible camera shake. But with this technique I describe here you can easily use the camera handheld down to at least one second. Keep in mind, though, that the longer the exposure time, the more ghost-like or halo like the image will look like. However, creatively used, this can produce some both special and interesting results.

Have fun experimenting with you flash!


31 thoughts on “Flash for the Night

  1. I’m impressed how little changes with the light – available light and flash light changes the sputter speed for handhold cameras. Thank you very much for your much appreciated advice.

  2. I have a photo of dewberry leaves on my new post. I tried your tip about usingavailable light for them, and it worked out pretty well. Now, I have another tip to try.

    I must say, quite apart from its use as an illustration of your technique, the photo brings to mind some childhood memories. South central Iowa was mining country, and my grandfather was a coal miner until he was injured in a slate fall. He never allowed my dad or uncles to go into the mines, which was just as well. By the time they were adults, the mines were closing for various reasons, and they would have been jobless, anyway.

  3. I used aperture priority mode a couple days ago to take some photos at night of close-range fireworks. I used the widest aperture that the lens had and the camera chose a relatively fast shutter speed. I got some interesting results indeed! I never thought of using a flash as well. Will definitely have to try it. Thanks!

  4. This is so cool. Little changes make a whole lot of difference!

    Unfortunately, I have not been doing much with our family camera. Been mostly shooting with my new iPhone 6s Plus. Still getting used to the size of it too.

  5. I’ve been practicing (attempting to perfect) taking photos in low light without flash. i have never had confidence in this area and I’m finding it kind of fun working out the kinks! I haven’t tried using the flash for cool effects, and that will be my next round of experimenting. Such good tips, Otto. Thank you.

    1. It’s really the beauty of today’s digital cameras: They handle low light situations so well. So for me using flash, is more about capturing a special expression. I look forward to hearing about your experiences with the flash.

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