Flash photography is the use of a camera flash bulb in a variety of possible situations where there doesn’t seem to be enough light. The most common use of flash photography is group portraits at gatherings where there is not enough light to take a satisfactory exposure.
But there are many other situations where the flash could be used, such as using fill-flash when the background is brighter than the subject, using the flash to light up a room and creating better coloring, or using the flash to freeze a moving object in a dark situation.
Indoor Flash Photography
In typical indoor situations there will probably not be enough light to take a normal hand-held well-exposed photo. There are many indoor flash photo opportunities you may be faced with. You may want to cast light on a group of people for a portrait photo. You may want to throw light into a room for an architectural photo. Or you may just want to cast light on certain objects in a lighted room that appears too dark for an exposure.
If your camera’s auto-exposure settings say that the photo would require a shutter speed slower than 1/60 of a second, then you probably shouldn’t hand-hold the camera or the photo would come out blurry. The reason it would come out blurry is because the shutter would be open long enough for any minor hand shake to distort the composition. The use of a tripod or higher ISO (or faster film) will probably be needed but many of us do not regularly carry a tripod. Most photographers simply use their flash bulb when they’re inside.
In order to take effective indoor flash photos there are some techniques you should keep in mind. When using the flash do not point it directly at a mirror or glass that will create a lens flare or just ruin the photo. Stand close enough to your subjects so the flash is actually effective (four to ten feet). Try to make sure your main subjects are about the same distance away from the flash as each other or some that are closer to the flash will appear brighter than ones that are farther away.
Fill Flash Situations
Fill flash fills in the areas of a photo that would normally appear too dark. Fill flash can be used for sunny day portraits for shadows on a subject’s face or to fill any shaded area that is out of the sunlight. Fill flash can also be used to cast light into a room where there are no windows. Fill in flash is ideal for back-lit and side-lit situations. In a backlit situation there will be a lot of light in the background but no or little light cast on the front of the subject.
This would normally create somewhat of a silhouette effect, but a fill flash would balance the photo nicely. In order for this technique to work, you must be careful to stay in flash range, which is usually around four to ten feet. With common cameras, in order to add fill flash to a photo, just toggle the flash to go off when it normally would not be needed.
Other Types of Flash
Many cameras have a red-eye reduction mode where the flash may fire before the picture is taken in order to cause the subjects’ pupils to contract. The red-eye reduction modes in newer cameras are surprisingly effective and many work in different ways to contract pupils.
A slow sync flash is for more complicated exposures and is used commonly to create blurry long exposures. The flash fires at the beginning of the exposure, but the shutter still stays open for a moment after the flash has fired. This can freeze a car at dusk and create a blurry streak in the car’s path. Or the slow sync flash could capture a sunset and freeze a closer subject that is moving through the frame. There are countless situations where a slow sync flash could possibly be used to enhance an exposure. There are also other versions of the sync flash such as the rear sync flash (where the flash fires at the end of an exposure) or the stroboscopic flash (where the flash fires multiple times throughout an exposure).
Many photographers also choose to bounce the flash off a wall or ceiling to get a softer, diffused kind of light commonly sought after for portraits. This kind of flash technique requires a flash that can be aimed in a direction that the camera is not pointed. It takes practice to refine this technique but many professionals come to use this method almost exclusively.
Practice using flash in your photos even when it is not necessarily needed and pay attention to your results. The best way to become better at flash photography is to analyze your photos and try to figure out what you could have done differently in order to create a better flash-filled exposure.
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