Outdoor Flash Basics

Flash...it's an amazing tool
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Flash—whether it's a pop-up on your 35mm SLR, a built-in one on your point-and-shoot, or a larger and more powerful accessory unit that attaches to your hot shoe, it's an amazing tool. Pictures can be made where light doesn't exist. In a dark room, I can create a picture. A flash creates light where none, or just a small amount exists. Think about this for a moment…If a flash creates light were none or little exists, think about that photo you took outdoors of your son wearing his baseball cap and an ugly shadow formed over his eyes and nose. In that shadowed area of the photo only a small amount of light existed relative to the rest of the image. Therefore, use flash to add light to that area of the photo to brighten it up! And, so was born the use of flash in outdoor photography.

Open Up The Shadows:
The myth we need to ignore is when it's sunny, there's plenty of light, so why use a flash. In bright sun, the contrast range between the highlights and shadows is so high, shadows go black and little detail is revealed. Think about the boy in the baseball cap. With flash added, the highlights aren't impacted, but the dark areas are opened up and reveal detail. So, whether you take that shot of a person with a long brim hat, a clump of flowers that have deep shadows, your pet in the sun in the backyard, or any other situation wherein deep shadows hamper a good image, use flash to add light to the dark areas.

As amazing as flash is, it does have limitations. Let's revisit the baseball cap situation. If you stand along the first baseline and your son is standing on second base, don't expect the flash to fill in the shadow on his face. The light from a flash can only go so far. If you use a built-in flash, think no more than 12 feet away from your subject. If you use a powerful accessory flash, double it and maybe even a bit more depending on the f-stop. Get away from being the person who at the opening ceremony of the Olympics in the nosebleed section of the stadium uses flash to photograph the athletes on the field.

Read the Manual:
Check to see if your camera has what's called Balanced Fill Flash or a Forced Flash On mode. These offer a bit more control than standard automatic. If you leave the flash set to automatic, it will only fire when it's dark that defeats the purpose of using it outdoors. Forced Flash On tells the camera you want the flash to fire every time you press the shutter. So, if you're within 12 feet of the person with the hat, the additional light from the flash will help open up the shadows. Balanced Fill Flash allows you to adjust the amount of light that's emitted from it. This is powerful as you take control over how much light is added. The more natural the effect, the more successful the image. You don't want the photo to look flashed. You want just enough to fill in the shadows to soften the contrast.

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    Kathie – with regards to purchasing a flash, get the top of the line or the one just below it. Anything smaller doesn’t put out enough light. And yes, they can be intimidating at first so be sure to read the manual or get a DVD to get the most out of what it can do for you. Hope this helps.

    Well Bob I see you’ve been out and about…taking in all the best scenery in the Canadian Rockies. You’ve probably seen more of the Rockies than most people from Alberta.

    I give this photo an A+

    Paul from CANMORE

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