Using your camera’s flash seems like the simplest thing in the world. If there isn’t enough light to make the picture, out comes the flash, and suddenly a dark scene becomes a lit picture. But there’s far more to good flash photography than meets the eye.
While you may be content leaving your flash on auto, learning which situations warrant its use will help you get the most print-worthy shots possible.
1. Two Exposures in One
The first thing to realize when using your flash is that every flash photo is actually two exposures: the flash, and the ambient light around you. Unless your scene is pitch black, the camera collects all the light around your subject while the shutter is open, in addition to the light coming from your flash. These two exposures are the building blocks of flash photography.
2. Shutter Speed and Flash Exposure
Proper exposure has two building blocks: aperture and shutter speed. Aperture controls how much light comes in through the lens, whereas the shutter speed dictates how long the image sensor is exposed to that light. In order to capture the flash’s full output, the camera will slow the shutter speed, usually to a maximum of 1/250 or below, depending on the camera. So while aperture controls the ambient light in your scene, shutter speed controls that light’s exposure — especially important when using a flash.
Want more ambient exposure? Use a longer shutter speed; the flash exposure remains the same.
3. It’s Hip to Be Square
The more distance between your flash and the subject, the less light that falls on the subject. If you’re five feet away from your subject, double your distance; the subject will only receive one-fourth the amount of light as they did at five feet. This is known as the inverse square law. While this falloff may seem annoying, you can use it to your advantage. Having the subject move away from a background surface will darken the wall and expose the subject more effectively.
4. Stay in Range
On that note, let’s poke fun at today’s stadium audiences. If you’ve ever seen a concert or sporting event, you’ve seen hundreds of flashes go off in the background. But since the typical built-in flash on a point-and-shoot or DSLR camera is about 25 feet, all fans are doing is lighting up the backs of people’s heads. So turn off the flash and save your batteries — your shot has plenty of light to capture from the stage.
There’s so much more to mastering the art of flash photography, but these building blocks will lay the foundation on which you can begin building your camera flash skills.
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Image source: Andy Warycka