Photography Tips: When to use the Flash

Feb 20, 2016

The flash. It’s one of the most familiar tools on a camera, yet it can be one of the most difficult to use effectively. If you’ve ever experimented with it, you know it can to be too heavy handed or not provide enough light on the subject. It can create highlights and shadows that obscure details.

However, when used correctly, flash can be used to augment ambient light and enhance the scene without overpowering the picture. Here are a few tips.

Mind the background

Always, but especially when using the flash, be sure to pay attention to what’s behind your subject before clicking the shutter. When directly behind the subject, reflective surfaces like windows, metal, and mirrors always result in the flash being directly reflected back into the camera and parts of your image being overexposed.

To avoid this, position yourself at a 45º angle to the reflective surface. Remember, angle of incidence equals angle of reflection. Also, move away from your background. This will do two things: 1) soften the background as it will be well back of the plane of focus and 2) allow the intensity of the flash to fall off so less of it will reach the background. The result? A a softer, more pleasing light.

Combine flash with available light

Especially if you’re capturing a low-light scene, like inside a jazz bar or below a jungle canopy, make sure to use the available ambient light in combination with your flash. This will ensure you have enough light to capture the entire scene without sacrificing its colors and mood.

Diffuse the flash

Even if your camera has only one flash setting, you’re not stuck with just one kind of flash. You can diffuse the light from your camera by bouncing the light into a photogenic umbrella or low ceiling or by diffusing it with a piece of tissue paper placed in front of the flash. Both of these techniques will reduce the intensity of the light and thus soften the shadows in your composition.

Freeze the action

The flash blur effect is achieved by choosing a slow shutter speed and using the flash to freeze the action. The background will appear blurred while your subject will be in clear focus. This is only possible with cameras that have a rear-sync function.

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