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Tips, Techniques and Lessons
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It should not be scary for you to use the flash! In fact, it is more desirable to use the flash than to use a higher ISO setting.  Using a higher ISO will cause you to lose quality in the photos, where using the flash can provide the additional light needed while preserving the image quality. If there is one huge error you can make when it comes to using flash, it is the failure to practice with the flash before it becomes necessary.  Take your camera out, turn on the flash and set the room lights to what they are going to be when you need to use the flash.  Get the kids, the spouse, or the pets gathered around for you to simply practice taking flash photos.  You should make yourself aware of the functional limits of your flash before you start using it so you will know the effective range right from the start. 

When you get into your practice sessions you should try to keep track of what you are doing so you will know what works and what does not work when it becomes important.  Some of the things you will need to pay attention to are;

  • Your distance from the subject makes a lot of difference when it comes to flash effectiveness.
  • Be aware of the orientation of the camera when you shoot. Watch out for straps or fingers in front of your flash (seriously, it is a big problem).
  • You may have to setup Flash compensation on your camera to increase or decrease the flash output for various shooting situations.
  • The White Balance setting can be very important and typically should be set to “flash” when you are using the flash.  This will maintain more accurate color in your images.
  • Pay attention to who is in front when you have a group of subjects.  If you have somebody in a white shirt in front, you might find that the person in the back will not get enough flash.  This is because the flash bouncing off the white shirt can cause the flash to turn off prematurely.  In this situation, you might have a perfect exposure of the white shirt while all of your other subject matter is silhouetted.
  • Watch out for obstructions that could bounce the flash directly back into the camera lens.  (You know, things like highly polished table-ware or serving dishes.)
  • If your flash is built into the left side of the camera, there are situations where it may be best to keep the flash on the top while you shoot, or on the bottom.  Try them both out with the same subject to see the difference in the results. 
  • Your position in relation to the subjects can make a great difference when using flash.  This goes right along with my typical discussion about maintaining a flattering perspective on your subject.  Quite often putting yourself into a position that will make your subject look good will also put your flash into a desirable position.
  • Flash can be very harsh on your subject, especially when you are very close.  One trick I use for softening this effect is to cover my flash with a small piece of a white handkerchief.
  • Plan your shots and make sure the camera is ready to shoot before the moment you want to capture arrives.

With all of this I must advise you to not shoot too much, but instead, make your shots count.  Bring extra batteries and try to pay attention to the battery meter.  Using your flash for indoor shots like these will run your batteries down quickly and you do not want to miss the best shots because you ran out of batteries.  Also, keep an eye on your flash-ready indicator, if it is blinking the flash is generally NOT ready and you should not take the shot until it is ready.

©2012 Jeff Cowell, jrcowell.com