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THE BIGGEST SECRET TO BETTER FLASH PHOTOGRAPHY

First things first — the most important thing you need to know about using flash with your camera is how to turn it off!

It’s true that flash is often needed and many shots can’t be taken without it — but too much flash is a disaster. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you’re much more likely to ruin a photo with flash than you are to miss the shot completely. So here are a few pointers:

First, learn how to turn your flash off. Then, keep it off.

If you don’t have enough light to light the scene, try getting it from other available sources. If you’re inside, open the curtains and let natural light in or move your lamps around.

If you’re not inside or you can’t move lamps around and open curtains (like in a restaurant… please don’t do that and embarrass me), then try adjusting your camera to let more light in. You can do this
a couple of different ways:

** 1) You can put your camera in Shutter Priority Mode and adjust your shutter speed to have it stay open longer. Of course, you’ll need a tripod if you’re going to slow your shutter speed and you’ll want to be sure there isn’t any action in your photo (photographing the inside of your hotel room would be fine, but not if a person or another living, moving thing is in the photo too.)

** 2) You can adjust your ISO. Even compact point-and-shoot cameras have this ability hidden in their menu options. The more you increase your ISO, the noisier (read that: grainier) your picture will become — but at least with this method your shutter will still close fast enough to stop movement.

I’m not saying that all flash is evil. Cameras and flash photography have become much more sophisticated in the past few years.

LEARN TO USE “FILL FLASH”

A separate flash unit (that is, one that is not built into your camera but rather attaches to the outside of it) that is made by the same manufacturer as your camera — or one that is made by another manufacturer but is “brand specific” to work with your camera — can produce painless fill-flash photography.

With “fill flash” the camera reads the amount of ambient light in the scene and reduces the power of the flash to give you a pleasing combination of natural light and flash.

You might notice a pre-flash, or flicker, before your camera’s final exposure. This means your flash is making a test shot so it can accurately adjust output and give you a well- balanced exposure.  Even small point-and-shoot cameras are incorporating a “fill flash” setting in their menus these days. If you see the “night flash” icon (usually a person’s head with a star over his shoulder), try using it.

You can even try it when you’re making daylight shots. It uses a slower shutter speed to allow the ambient light to expose the background, then the flash fires to light up the foreground.

Many cameras — and almost all external flash units — allow you to dial down the power of the flash. Try reducing the flash output and check your results in the LCD. You might be surprised at how much more natural the results look.

Fill flash is great for reducing shadows cast by harsh midday sun. Those unsightly raccoon-eye shadows under the eyes and long shadow under the nose are perfect candidates for fill flash. That’s why you’ll see every wedding photographer using his flash units even in sunny outdoor shots.

Or, if you can’t dial down your flash, try bouncing it off the ceiling or a wall by aiming it away from the subject but against something white to reflect the light back. This will cause the light to become very diffuse as it bounces around. And by having the light softened in this way the flash becomes much less noticeable.

FIVE WAYS TO ELIMINATE “RED EYE”

The dreaded red-eye effect is caused by the intense light of the flash reflecting off the retina and showing the blood-rich interior of the eye.  Here are some ways to eliminate it:

** 1) Turn on your camera’s red-eye reduction mode. This forces it to shine a bright light or a bright flash a moment before the real exposure. Your subject’s retinas grow smaller and the reflection is reduced. Be careful. It can also force a blink or a grimace from your subject too, so check your LCD and make sure everyone had their eyes open before you go away thinking you got the shot.

** 2) Get the flash unit away from the lens. The farther the flash is from the center of the lens, the less your chances of getting red eye. If your camera has a hot shoe, an auxiliary flash is a great investment. Elevating the flash like this often solves the problem completely.

** 3) Bounce your flash. Just like using fill flash, bouncing the light causes it to approach the eye from many angles, not just straight on. The result is no red-eye reflection.

** 4) Don’t look at the camera. Telling your subjects to “look at the camera” is a sure way to increase the probability of red eye. Many photographs, particularly those including groups of people, will look great if they’re looking and interacting with each other instead of all looking at the photographer. Even just a slight adjustment in where the subject looks can mean a big improvement.

** 5) Software. Red eye is so common every current software program has a simple one- or two-step solution. Even many cameras now have this feature built in. It’s easy and it works.

[Editor’s Note: Learn more about opportunities to profit from your travels (and even from your own home) in our free online newsletter The Right Way to Travel.]

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