Blue Hour Photo Workshops

Photography is a constant travel to new places

Flash Away the Shadows

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This post is a new instalment for me. I have decided as of today I will – on and off – provide you with simple tips here on this blog, tips that can improve your photography. Of course there aren’t really any simple and easy tricks that will magically result in great photography. Nevertheless, there are techniques and small secrets of the trade that may be handy to know about to handle certain situations or just to increase your creative toolbox. This is a little bit of an experiment for me, so please let me know what you think of it.

I will start this instalment with showing a helpful way of using either the camera’s built in flash or an external flash mounted on the camera. The thing with either types of flashes is that they provide a very harsh and usually very unattractive light. In addition, the light is completely flat since it radiates along the camera’s axis, thus not modulating the forms of the subject at all. Actually, the way most people use the flash on the camera is not particularly favourable. You know, it’s indoor, it’s dark, and to help capture a picture you turn on the flash. The result is usually – and in all honesty – awful, for instance with the people in the foreground burned out completely by the flash light with white faces and every thing else going pitch black. In situations like that, I would rather crank up the ISO and forget all about the flash – or use a flash method I will get back to in a later post.

Today I will show a way of using the flash when most people don’t think it’s necessary to use a flash. The little flash on the camera can really come in handy when the sun is shining from a clear blue sky. Not that you need more light, but maybe you have noticed the dark shadows the sun often creates – particular around midday? Like a hat shading the face or just the eye sockets growing dark in their own shadows.

If you, in a situation like this, use just a little pop of the flash, it will provide enough light into those shaded areas and bring out enough information to make them more than just black holes in the photo. At the same time it will not be noticeable in areas lit directly by the sun. There are different ways to accomplish this. On a point-and-shoot camera, you will usually look for a setting that’s either called slow sync or fill-in-flash. Just turn it on and let the camera do the rest. It can’t be more simple than that. Of course, you have no control over the amount of light the flash emits, but the result is usually very pleasant.

On some cameras, particularly on more advanced ones, and certainly on most external flashes, you can decided for yourself how much the flash should light up the shadows. You can dial the amount of flash light up and down usually in increments of 1/3 exposure values (E.V.) up to +3 E.V. or down to -3 E.V. The trick is not to make the flash too apparent, only to add light in the shadows and not in the areas that are already lit by the sunlight. I usually go for something between -2 E.V. or -3 E.V. Set the camera on program mode or aperture-priority mode and let it handle the rest. If you have a green or fully automatic mode, make sure you don’t use this since it will overrun what you are trying to accomplish. I also recommend not using shutter speed-priority mode to make sure you don’t accidentally use too fast a shutter speed, faster than the camera can synchronize the shutter with the flash.

One more thing: Remember that the flash doesn’t have a range of more than a couple of yards or meters. Anything beyond that will not be affected by the flash.

That’s it. I don’t always use this method in harsh sunshine – it depends on what I want to achieve. Sometimes I want the shadows to grow dark. Furthermore, with editing programs such as Lightroom and Photoshop you can easily lighten the shadows in post-production, but the result is quite different from using fill-in-flash at the time of capture. With the latter, you bring out more colours and saturation in the shadows. In addition, when photographing people, the little extra flash creates an attractive sparkle in their eyes (just look at the picture above and you will see two white spots in both eyes. It’s the reflections of the flash).

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2 Comments»

  restlessjo wrote @

I’ll have to give this a go. Thanks for the information Otto.

  A Flashy Look | Blue Hour Photo Workshops wrote @

[…] need to but can add some stunning effect by using it. Such was the case I showed in the post Flash Away the Shadows a couple of months ago. And today I will show you another easy way to use the flash for a special […]


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