If I could control any one aspect of every picture-making session, it would be the light. To bring your photography to the next level, you must take charge of the light. Controlling the light for large subjects, sprawling landscapes or cityscapes isn’t feasible, but for smaller subjects, there’s a way to impact the outcome. I strongly recommend the use of flash to add fill, backlight, a halo or rim effect. What once used to be intimidating is now easy to use, so there’s no need to shy away from flash any longer. It’s time to dive into the world of flash photography.
Flash—Basic Auto: The first step to bring your flash photography to the next level is to load it with batteries and slide it into the hot-shoe of your camera. Turn it on, and you’re ready to go. Most beginners start off using it to add light where it doesn’t exist—mostly indoors or at night. The flash illuminates the closest subjects. Those that are farther away receive less light. Those that are too far away receive none. With on camera flash, the background goes dark and the foreground-lit subjects take on bright intensity. While it’s great to use the basic setting and be able to make photos where light doesn’t exist, the light from on camera flash isn’t the most flattering.
Compensation: On the back of the flash, there’s a button that controls the output of light. Activate the button to add or subtract the amount of emitted light from the flash in comparison to what the computer chooses. On a sunny day at noon, go outside with a friend and have him or her wear a baseball cap. There will be a strong shadow across the face created by the brim of the hat. Use the light from the flash to illuminate that dark area. The same way a flash can add light to a subject in a dark room, it can add light to a dark area in an outdoor setting. Ideally, the flash on your camera will add light to the shadow area of the face. If too much light appears in the shaded area, use the Compensation setting on the back of the flash. Dial down the power toward the MINUS side. If not enough light is added, dial in PLUS compensation to tell the flash to ADD more light. Experiment with each setting and subject until you achieve the look you want. You now understand flash exposure compensation!
Slow Synch: Cameras come from the factory set to a given flash synch speed. Depending on the brand, it’s somewhere between 1/60th and 1/250th. Depending on the synch speed, the camera defaults to that shutter speed when flash is used. Let’s take a look at a given flash scenario: You’re in a room that has warm ambient light. You attach a flash because even though the light is warm, it’s not enough to illuminate your subject. The camera fires at 1/250th because it’s the default. The result is a bright subject, but the warm ambient light is lost—it’s now dark. The fast shutter speed prevents ambient light from building up on the sensor. Use Slow Synch to restore the ambient light. Set the camera body or flash (it depends on the brand as to whether slow synch is found in camera or on board the flash) to slow speed synch and place the camera on a tripod or other stable surface. Take a meter reading in aperture priority. Let’s pretend it’s 1/8 second. Because you set your system to slow synch, the camera sets the shutter to 1/8 instead of the default, which underexposed the background. The end result is that the main subject lit by the flash is properly exposed and the background is illuminated by the ambient light. The reason it works is that slow synch tells the camera to fire at a shutter speed that’s slower than the default. The shutter stays open long enough to record both the ambient light and the light from the flash—amazing. It’s essential to use a tripod with slow shutter speeds so the final image is sharp.
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