Flash Away the Shadows


This post is a new instalment for me. I have decided as of today I will – on and off – provide you with simple tips here on this blog, tips that can improve your photography. Of course there aren’t really any simple and easy tricks that will magically result in great photography. Nevertheless, there are techniques and small secrets of the trade that may be handy to know about to handle certain situations or just to increase your creative toolbox. This is a little bit of an experiment for me, so please let me know what you think of it.

I will start this instalment with showing a helpful way of using either the camera’s built in flash or an external flash mounted on the camera. The thing with either types of flashes is that they provide a very harsh and usually very unattractive light. In addition, the light is completely flat since it radiates along the camera’s axis, thus not modulating the forms of the subject at all. Actually, the way most people use the flash on the camera is not particularly favourable. You know, it’s indoor, it’s dark, and to help capture a picture you turn on the flash. The result is usually – and in all honesty – awful, for instance with the people in the foreground burned out completely by the flash light with white faces and every thing else going pitch black. In situations like that, I would rather crank up the ISO and forget all about the flash – or use a flash method I will get back to in a later post.

Today I will show a way of using the flash when most people don’t think it’s necessary to use a flash. The little flash on the camera can really come in handy when the sun is shining from a clear blue sky. Not that you need more light, but maybe you have noticed the dark shadows the sun often creates – particular around midday? Like a hat shading the face or just the eye sockets growing dark in their own shadows.

If you, in a situation like this, use just a little pop of the flash, it will provide enough light into those shaded areas and bring out enough information to make them more than just black holes in the photo. At the same time it will not be noticeable in areas lit directly by the sun. There are different ways to accomplish this. On a point-and-shoot camera, you will usually look for a setting that’s either called slow sync or fill-in-flash. Just turn it on and let the camera do the rest. It can’t be more simple than that. Of course, you have no control over the amount of light the flash emits, but the result is usually very pleasant.

On some cameras, particularly on more advanced ones, and certainly on most external flashes, you can decided for yourself how much the flash should light up the shadows. You can dial the amount of flash light up and down usually in increments of 1/3 exposure values (E.V.) up to +3 E.V. or down to -3 E.V. The trick is not to make the flash too apparent, only to add light in the shadows and not in the areas that are already lit by the sunlight. I usually go for something between -2 E.V. or -3 E.V. Set the camera on program mode or aperture-priority mode and let it handle the rest. If you have a green or fully automatic mode, make sure you don’t use this since it will overrun what you are trying to accomplish. I also recommend not using shutter speed-priority mode to make sure you don’t accidentally use too fast a shutter speed, faster than the camera can synchronize the shutter with the flash.

One more thing: Remember that the flash doesn’t have a range of more than a couple of yards or meters. Anything beyond that will not be affected by the flash.

That’s it. I don’t always use this method in harsh sunshine – it depends on what I want to achieve. Sometimes I want the shadows to grow dark. Furthermore, with editing programs such as Lightroom and Photoshop you can easily lighten the shadows in post-production, but the result is quite different from using fill-in-flash at the time of capture. With the latter, you bring out more colours and saturation in the shadows. In addition, when photographing people, the little extra flash creates an attractive sparkle in their eyes (just look at the picture above and you will see two white spots in both eyes. It’s the reflections of the flash) .

Why Play with Fire?


Have you backed up your photos lately? I am asking because I have just seen the grief of a good friend of mine who lost all his photos because he hadn’t. He had done what everybody knows one shouldn’t do, but everybody does. He had kept all his photos taken over the last three or four years on an SD-card in the camera – and had not backed them up on any other device. These were photos of family and friends, from holiday and travels, of precious moments and of big sentimental value. The SD-card malfunctioned. All photos gone.

Are you putting yourself in a similar position? Please, don’t. Go right back home and back-up your photos. Now.

Don’t expect it won’t happen to you. It’s only a matter of time before it will. Before your precious photos of which you only have one copy of will be destroyed because the storage device – whatever kind it is – breaks, because you accidentally delete the photos or because you lose the SD-card somewhere you can’t get it back from. Too many people take risks, even professional photographers. I have too often surprisingly seen professionals that play with the fire – and I know one day will regret it. I know, backup is boring, but I assure you will regret, too, not paying attention to this trivial task the day all your photos are gone – even if you are only an occasional photographer, yes, don’t even see yourself as a photographer.

I learned my lesson early on (and don’t we all have to learn the hard way). It was back in the days when my computer had a stunning 20 megabyte hard-disk, a computer that was more expensive that my quite more advanced computer of today and couldn’t even hold one of my regular TIFF-files of today, and back in the days when the computer was run on a disk-operating system call MS-DOS, the precursor of the later Windows, by, yes, Microsoft. Anyway I had been writing the majority of articles for a magazine I was editing back then, when the hard-disk crashed. I lost one month worth of work. And there was only one solution to the problem: To write all articles once again.

I learned my lesson. After that I backed up everything I wrote or created on the computer. Later on when I started photographing digitally, my photos were backed up the same way. All my originals would exist in at least three different storage devices. Back in the beginning I thought I was safe if I backed up only the original photo files. If I lost processed photos – I could always process the originals again. But then my archive of processed photos quickly grew, and I realized that I should not only backup the original information, but also all the work I had put in. If I lost ten years of processed photos, it would take me another ten years to process them again from the originals.

I had to learn one more lesson. Not long ago I was on an assignment. Every night after a day’s work my photos were transferred to my portable laptop, and the CF-cards formatted to be ready for the next day’s photographing. That had been my workflow for many years while on the road. Of course you have already seen what was wrong with this picture. Yes, I backed up all my pictures in the various ways when I got back from the trip – but I didn’t backup while travelling. One of the last days of this trip the hard-disk of the laptop crashed. Disaster! So yes, now I always backup right away every evening to an external harddrive when I am travelling. By the way, the pictures from the trip weren’t lost, but it was an expensive operation to get them extracted from the crashed laptop. Not recommended!

Today, all my photos are stored and backed up in hard-disks on different servers – and even backed up on DVD’s (there is no way you can delete a file from a DVD – and extra precaution). In addition I have them backed up on an external hard disk that is stored off site. If my house burn down, I still have my archive intact.

For any data that is important to you – photographs or anything else – there should never, ever, be only one copy of it in existence, no matter how safe you believe it to be. Catastrophes do happen, houses burn down, banks get robbed, data centres have power failures and cloud companies go out of business.

Have you backed up your photos lately – or at all?

Go Light!


Why is it that for so many obsessed with photography the obsession goes all the way to the equipment – and for some even only to equipment? Like me, I don’t care about equipment on a rational level – and in a practical shooting situation, but as soon as Canon (and, yes I do like Canon!) comes out with a new version of my camera I crave for it – or a new improved construction of my favourite lens; I feel like I need it. Of course I don’t, because I do know that good photography isn’t about equipment, but about vision and creative flow. And why is it only us – photographers? When did you ever hear about a writer who needed the latest update of a computer before he or she could write the next novel? For one; I have never.

It’s a counterproductive obsession. The more equipment you carry, the less likely you are going to load it up on yourself and get out there and shoot. I think there are two reasons for this fixation. For one it appeals to the geek in (some of) us – and for those only interested in equipment it really complies with their nerdy personality (you need to watch out my friends!). Secondly – and more importantly – it’s a about fear of missing a shot. Any photographer dreads such an experience. So we amass every piece of gear we feel gives us that readiness to elude this to happen. Longer lenses, stronger strobes, cameras with ISO ratings that would astonish us only 5 years ago. We are pulled to this stuff like a magnet.

It’s all very deceptive. I am not talking about sports photographers who need that big 500 mm or wildlife photographers who need that 400 with and f-stop of 1.4 (if it only existed…), but you and me and most other photographers – professional or non-professional – who shoot daily life or people or landscape or architecture (I’ll give that the latter may find a tilt-and-shit lens very useful, though…) We don’t need 36 M-pixels, 15 frames a second, 51,200 ISO or even a 300 mm. Honestly! Of course if you are on an assignment you want to make sure you deliver. But that’s not what I am talking about. I’m talking about that thing in my brain that screams and throws a tantrum each time I set a long lens aside in favour of travelling lighter. It’s yelling at me, telling me how stupid I am when I let go of all my DSLR’s and everything that goes along with them.

But I have learned to ignore that pull. Yes, I will miss some shots, but not more than all the shifting between tons of equipment will do. On the contrary. I have learned that less is more (who said that by the way?). Really. I get more focused on what I can do instead of what I might miss. With loads of equipment I’ll miss moments because I’m wrestling with lens changes or a heavy backpack or the paranoia that my expensive gear is going to get damaged or stolen. With less equipment I will be more ready at any given time; I can concentrate on the life unfolding itself in front of me, I will have more time on the street or wherever I am, because I don’t need to rest so much as a result of carrying too much, and I can ease down and let things develop in a natural pace.

The fact is that art becomes better with more constrains. When you put a constraint on yourself and how you work it forces the creative process to shift into a fierier pace. So less ends up being more, again. Like the photographer David duChemin says: «I think it’s a sign of growth as artists when we begin to embrace, even create constraints, instead of trying so hard to avoid them.»

I mentioned travelling light. Often now when I go to a foreign land doing a travel story, I will only bring my Fujifilm X-10. That’s it and that’s that. And I really get all the shots I want to. Well, no, not those landscapes my 400 mm would have picked up, but I am anyway mostly a wide-angel kind of guy. So what’s the big deal? A little point-and-shoot camera (a little more advanced I admit to that) instead of 45 pounds of equipment? When I travel like this and meet fellow colleagues they mostly give me those big eyes, saying «you must be crazy – or not really a photographer.» Well, I know the difference between expensive camera-equipment and excellent photography, and sometimes I wonder if they do…

I would like to round of with a quote by the excellent photograph Edward Weston: «[A photographer’s] greatest asset is the directness of the process he employs. But this advantage can only be retained if he simplifies his equipment and technique to the minimum necessary, and keeps his approach free from all formula, art-dogma, rules and taboos. Only then can he be free to put his photographic sight to use in discovering and revealing the nature of the world he lives in.»

A Curse and a Blessing


One of the best things about the digital era in photography (compared to the analogue film era – for those of us who started there) is the fact that you are able to immediately check the result. You can right away on the image preview screen on the back of the camera see whether you got it or not. With film you were (and still are, of course – film is by no means obsolete) somewhat in limbo and had to wait until the films were developed, at least if you weren’t using Polaroid instant film. Now with the image preview screen, if necessary you can change the exposure or you standpoint or other settings to get the correct or best capture if you missed it the first time.

That’s the blessing of the image preview screen. It’s simply a huge advantage for today’s digital photographers, and can speed up the learning curve and development of the photographer.

But it can also hurt you.

The preview screen can break your concentration. That’s the curse of it. Again and again I see photographers checking the screen – after every captured image, to make sure they got it. In the mean time they miss out the best moment happening while their eyes are on the preview screen. In my workshops I almost always end up telling most participants to stop using the screen – to tape over it or turn it off or at least not check it all the time. If you are photographing a static subject it doesn’t matter, but when you are photographing people or events or on the street, the conditions change all the time – and rapidly. You don’t want to miss out the best picture just because your attention was on the preview screen. Then the preview screen becomes more of a curse than a blessing.

Taping the screen is probably an overkill, but turning it off so it doesn’t pop up after each exposure is a good idea. Then you don’t get inclined to check it all the time. What I usually do is check the screen after the first shot and then go with the setting that works till I am done. Of course sometimes the lighting conditions change and I might have to check again, but I try to keep my eye on the subject as much as possible. Well, I keep it on the viewfinder. The fact is that the more your eye is on the viewfinder, the more you increase your chances of getting the shots you want. I find it distracting when the image pops up after every exposure, and I urge you to turn off the automatic preview screen. You can always review it, simply by tapping the preview button when it’s necessary to check focus, composition and the histogram for the exposure. That way you get the blessing of the preview screen without the curse.

It may take some time to build the confidence to the point where you feel you don’t need to check the screen more than occasionally. When I am in the field and I know what I am looking for, I shoot, shoot and shoot. I want to give my full attention to what is happening in front of me.

A quote by master wildlife photographer Thomas Mangelsen regarding this: «I was with a good friend in the Pantanal in Brazil this summer and I am always giving him a hard time about chimping because we were watching jaguars, they’re rare, they’re endangered, they’re skittish and your opportunity is short. The jaguar would be moving along the river, and I would be looking, looking, looking and I’d look over at my friend and he would be chimping. I caught myself literally yelling at him a couple of times. “You know the jaguar’s here, keep shooting!” But he was so consumed with seeing what he got and his rationale was to look for a mistake, Artikkelforfatteren har fanget en levende alligator.maybe he needs to fix exposure…fair enough. He was chimping and editing in the back of his camera, deleting, deleting, deleting, and I just can’t really tell. I can get the general idea of what I shot on the back of the camera, but I’m not so damn sure there might be something there I don’t want to throw away. I spend my time looking for the good stuff as opposed to deleting the bad stuff. I don’t really care about the bad stuff.»

What better after this quote to end with a picture of myself capturing an alligator in Pantanal. I definitely didn’t have to use the preview screen for this one…

Latest Instagram

I am having more and more fun with the app Instagram. I have written about it before like in my post Instagram my Backyard. Actually in a comment in that post Gertie asks me the following question: «You are a skilled and creative photographer, you master your cameras, you know the technique… why don’t you make use of this… you hardly need these new fancy approaches? Is this today’s mantra and reality… professionals need to adapt towards the amateur to stand any chance?»

I think it’s both an interesting and relevant question. And I certainly understand Gertie’s objections. But for me I see it somewhat differently. I don’t try to adapt to whatever is the fashion, but I look upon Instagram as one more of many tools I can use in my work. Besides it’s definitely not something I have to do, on the contrary, I find great pleasure in playing with the app. And I really just play around with it. Besides I like trying out new possibilities and not get stuck in one way of approaching my photography.

Here are a handful of Instagram pictures I have taken over the last couple of weeks. I will continue shooting and using the app, and if you are interested you can follow me on Instagram. My profile name is ottovonmunchow. How about you? Do you enjoy all those new apps (Instagram is only one of many out there)?

The Inherent Property of Photography

It’s about time for me to continue something I started long time ago. It’s time to talk a little bit more about the visual language – primarily in photography.

But first: I want to thank everyone who has participated in the last rounds of discussion about the dialectic tension between craftsmanship and vision. Of course it’s not a new discussion. It has been an ongoing discourse as long as mankind has expressed him- or herself through the arts, and it’s a debate that surely will never end. Still, I find it kind of amazing that the two camps often seem to stick to their grounds, and never the twain shall meet. I am surprised about the fact that some think that technical knowledge is about rules, for instance, when it really is about possibilities. I am even more amazed when some think technique comes down to camera brands, or what lenses you use. Whatever camera you are using has absolutely nothing to do with it. Technique is about how you use whatever camera you have to express whatever your vision is.

This post will actually be about technique – so forgive me those of you who aren’t interested in photography or at least the craft of photography. I am not going to talk about how to get a perfect exposure or any technique for technique’s sake, though. Because that is something modern cameras are more than capable enough to take care of themselves, at least 90 per cent of the time. No, I want to talk about how you can affect your visual expression by technical tweaking. Some time ago I wrote the post The Essential Property of Photography. It was about the most distinctive element of the photographic language that relates to the shutter of the camera. Today I want to focus on the aperture. The element of the photographic language related to the aperture is a less specific property of photography than that of the shutter. The visual result of using the aperture creatively, photography has to share with videos and films. Even the eye function the same way, although we hardly recognize it ourselves because of the eye’s enormous capability to adjust. Nevertheless when aperture was launched with the first cameras it introduced a visual element that hadn’t really been seen in the arts before: That of limited depth of field. And that’s what I want to talk a little bit about today.

We all know that a combination of shutter speed and aperture together ensure a correct exposure whether it’s on a digital sensor or on film. And as I said, this is something the camera is good at. Basically. But the aperture has a much more profound role to play in terms of visual language. It determents the depth of field of any photograph. It can make everything from close-up to infinity seem sharp or it can make the focus only a couple of inches wide and knock everything else out of focus. How can we use that creatively? Fundamentally in two ways. By reducing the depth of field we can make the viewer focus on the main subject or we can create an illusion of three-dimensional depth in the photograph.

The fact that a picture in itself is two-dimensional gives rise to special challenges in order to transform the perception of three-dimensional depth onto the flat surface. Depth is simply missing in any picture. It’s not a new challenge and it’s something painters through time have dealt with in various ways. Among other means they have used perspective to bring out a feeling of depth. The ancient Egyptions rendered a man at the far end of a row of marching soldiers as large as the man closest to the observer, and thus really didn’t create much feeling of depth. The old Chinese did the same on their rice paper paintings, but they were still able to create a feeling of depth. They always placed near object down in the left corner and faraway objects in the upper right corner of the frame. So even if a mountain in the foreground and a mountain in the background were rendered at the same size, the painting would still be perceived as being three-dimensional. Eventually painters, particularly in Europe, started to utilized convergence of parallel lines and diminution of object size to create a feeling of depth. And during the Renaissance they even went to extremes, by exaggerating the effects of convergence and diminution.

With the use of limited depth of field it’s possible to create another sensation of depth. The eye can only focus on one plane at a time. Objects in front of or behind this plane appear more blurred the farther away they are from it. As a result, contrasts between sharpness and blur, creates an impression of depth. This is something we can use creatively in our photographic language. A shallow depth of field will at the same time make the eye stay on whatever is focused and this it’s a great way to clean up an otherwise messy or chaotic background.

Most people know that the use of a wide angel lens results in more depth of field than the use of a telephoto lens. But it’s not quite true. What really matters is the scale of the object rendered. If you move in with a wide angel lens so that the object is rendered at the same scale on the image sensor as with a longer lens, the depth of field will be the same with the same aperture, albeit the perspective will be completely different. With this in mind it should also make sense that a camera with a small sensor, give rise to more depth field compared to one with a larger picture frame. As a matter of fact most point-and-shoot cameras have so small sensors that it’s virtually impossible to effectively limit the depth of field. That is why so many photographers chose a so-called full-framed camera, simply to have more options to play with (among other qualities). So to summarize: The only two factors that affect the depth of field are scale and size of the aperture. Use it wisely in your visual expression!

Skills versus Creativity – One More Time

I have previously written about the seemingly inherent conflict between technical skills and creative expression. If you have read the posts, you know that I don’t really believe there is such a conflict, but think that craftsmanship only broadens the artist’s expressive abilities. The last couple of days I have been reading The Creative Photographer by Andreas Feininger (thanks to danitacahill who made me aware of the book some time ago). Feininger was a late staff photographer at Life when the magazine was at its heights. In the book he has a passage that goes straight to this duality I have focused on in my blog-posts, which makes for a very strong statement. Let me quote the passage from the book:

«Although, according to popular belief, photo-technical knowledge and skill are first among the qualifications of a good photographer, in my opinion they rank last. I say this because I have met too many photographers who literally knew all the answers in the book, were experts in photo-technical matters, owned the finest equipment, and never made a worthwhile photograph. On the other hand, I know for a fact that several of our most successful photojournalists have only the sketchiest ideas about photo technique – and that the laboratory technicians [remember this was written before the age of digital photography] assigned to do their work suffer whenever they have to print their films. But these photographers know how to make good pictures. They know how to see, they feel for and with their subjects, and they know how to express their feelings in photographic form. Any competent photo technician can make acceptable prints from technical poor negatives, but if feeling and sensitivity are lacking, then obviously, there is no remedy».

«This should not be interpreted to mean that I condone bad technique. I don’t. But if I had to choose between the two – a meaningful picture that is technically poor, and a meaningless picture that is photo-technically unassailable – I unhesitatingly would choose the first. However in this age of foolproof cameras, […] there is really no excuse for bad photo technique. Technique can be mastered by anyone who cares to make the effort. And once mastered, it should be taken for granted and not used as a measure of the value of a photograph – or a photographer».

The Creative Photographer by Andreas Feininger was first published in 1955. Since then photo technique has only become easier to get grip on and to master, thanks to digital imagery and cameras that are so much more advanced compared to back then. Andreas Bernhard Lyonel Feininger – as his full name was – (1906-1999) was a German American photographer, and writer on photographic technique, noted for his dynamic black-and-white scenes of Manhattan and studies of the structure of natural objects (according to Wikipedia. The photograph to the left, «The Photojournalist», may be Feininger’s best-known photograph. The now-iconic image of photojournalist Dennis Stock was taken for Life Magazine. Picture also from Wikipedia).

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.

In a Flash of Moment

Today’s blog is going to be more for the mere photographic minded (and I hope the rest of you will forgive me for that). I don’t usually write about technique, because there is plenty of information about how to handle a camera out there – and I am more interested in the creative process of photography anyway. But this time I will make an exception, simply because the technique I am about to describe may boost creativity as well.

This post is going to be about how to make a shoe mounted flash not only work, but give an interesting and quite different look to your pictures. Flash pictures you may ask? That is always gonna be harsh contrast, lousy quality and no control on your part… But really, no! Before the digital era I used to be sharp and very good at using flash. I had to. Back then I was shooting slides, and to get the best quality I would usually use a slow film at 100 iso or even Kodachrome 64. When light went low, you had to be able to either use a flash or set up a whole shebang of lighting equipment. I got good with the handheld flash. At some point I almost as a rule used the flash – day or night. It became part of my signature. But when the digital era took over, suddenly I didn’t need the flash any more, I could just ramp up the iso-setting of the camera, and I was able to shoot in any lighting condition. How cool was that! I packed down the flash, and never look back again. Until recently that is. Not long ago I finally dug into my camera bag again, and found the old flash (and found out that I actually had to buy a new one, too), because it’s not bad at all, but really just another creative device in my toolbox – when I need that special look.

The main factor for success with the shoe mounted flash (or even better if you hold it in your hand with an extension cord) is to mix available light and light from the flash. And the trick to gain control of this mix is to think about the process as taking two pictures on the same frame – even though it happens at the same time – in one exposure. First you take a picture with the available light and then you take the same picture with the flash (or the other way around, if you like to think about it that way, because it really doesn’t matter, it’s only a mental exercise; as I said it happens simultaneous – at least for the argument here). And what happens when you add two pictures on top of each other? The two light sources will add up and make the final picture lighter – too light. Which means you will have to make each captured picture darker, so the total adds up to a correct exposure. Thus you will have to underexpose them.

Let’s see how that works in real life. And I will start with explaining two useful set-ups using manual exposure control. That will make it easier to understand the process, even if you are never going to shoot manually. Let’s say you are shooting indoor. You want to take advantage of the special look you can get from mixing equally available light and light from the flash. To get a correct added exposure you set the camera so that it underexposes the subject lit by available light with 1 exposure value (either stop down the aperture one step or cut the exposure time in half). And you set the flash 1 exposure value down, too. Where the flash hit the subject the total of the two underexposed pictures (which albeit is but one frame) will give you a correct exposure, while where only available light is picked up, the subject – usually the background – will be underexposed and that is fine. It doesn’t sound too difficult does it? Try it out!

Here is the other set-up I mentioned I would explain: It’s midday sunshine. The shadows under the nose and in the eye sockets of the person you want to photograph are black. Not to mention if the person wears a hat. Time to mount the flash again. But this time you will only underexpose the flash. You set it to minus 2 exposure values. The exposure for the available light is as if no flash was added. That’s it; you are good to go with a so-called fill-in flash. Two exposure values down on the flash doesn’t sound like a lot, but it actually brings the light from the flash so much down, that it will only affect the shadows. That’s why you with this set-up don’t need to underexpose the available light. Here is the beauty: You can mix any ration of available light and flash as long as the sum of the two exposure values you step down are -2. In the first step-up the available light was -1 and the flash -1. Hence the sum is -2. In the second setup the available light was 0 and the flash -2. Again the sum is -2. So if you want to give a little more flash than the equal set-up in the beginning, you could for instance go for -½ EV for the flash and -1½ EV for the the available light. The sum is still -2. It works!

I’ll stop now, and get back to the automatic approach next time. I have already written too way too much, despite the fact that in my previous post I complain about myself too often writing too long texts. So thank you for staying to the end.