Photography = painting with light. We’ve learned to control light using combinations of aperture, shutter, and the ISO (formerly film speed) settings, but we can also use the built in flash. Actually, when it gets dark we have to use the camera flash for the light by which to paint our photograph.
In our last session I mentioned the merits of using flash fill in daylight photographs to fill in shadows cast by the sun or to insure a good exposure of a subject with a bright background. That article also made clear the flash built into compact cameras will not do you much good with subjects….your lover, your pet, your family….beyond 10 to 15 feet from your camera. So I first advice, when having to use your flash, is stay close to you subject.
I’ve created what I hope is a simple diagram-photograph to go along with this topic. It shows the back of my compact camera – the button with a lightning bolt symbol next to it that controls the flash settings, the LCD display that for a few seconds shows what is selected (flash and other settings), and the Menu button where you can set the red-eye reduction if desired. The lightning bolt and red eye symbols and their operation are standard on all cameras. At the front “lens side” of the camera in the upper left hand side is where you will most often find the flash (this is not shown).
This is a good time to point out that this upper far left position of the flash on these small cameras often results in people inadvertently putting their hand in front of it, blocking the light output when taking a picture, so be careful.
Anyway, following the diagram-photo you can see there are three (3) flash settings. The lightning bolt with the “A” means AUTO and this setting means flash is set to go off when the camera determines the ambient light is low and the flash is needed.
The lightning bolt by itself (with no “A”) means the flash will fire every time you press the shutter and expose a photograph. And the lightning bolt with the circle around it and diagonal line running through means the flash is OFF. So using this button (the one that is similar on your camera) will turn the flash OFF or ON in one of two modes, auto or all the time.
Reflecting back on the previous article, when the man on the aft deck of his yacht took a photograph of a house several hundred feet away, he should have pressed this button until the lightning bolt with the circle and diagonal line came up. Why? Because at this distance a using a flash provides no benefit subject lighting and only depletes the camera battery.
With respect to the “flash fill” photograph of the three sailors against the sunset the flash button needs to be pressed until just the lightning bolt only appears (without the “A”) Why? Because when you point your camera at the subjects with the bright background, the cameras metering system (which I will discuss next time) will think “Oh my, there is so much light I think I will increase the shutter speed and/or close down the aperture” to not overexpose. That will be fine for a great exposure of the bright sky, but it will under expose your subject(s). This also means if you set the flash as the lightning bolt with the “A” or AUTO Flash, the meter will see all this background, sunset light and automatically (in this auto mode) turn the flash off, thinking it is not needed.
But these subjects do need light from the flash. Again, (unless YOU are in total command – full manual-M control) the camera metering will tend to expose for a perfect bright sunset sky, and the result is the faces of the subjects will get lost in the shadows.
Knowing this is how the camera performs, you can in this situation turn the flash on to go off every time you press the shutter button by setting it to the lightning bolt (without the “A”). This is flash fill in that you are using the flash in daylight to help fill in the shadows where ambient light is deficient, reduce otherwise extreme contrast, and provide a balanced exposure.
After dark, without other very bright lighting, you will need to use your flash for every exposure. It does not matter if you set it to Auto Flash or simply Flash, either way it will fire every time. Again, stay close to your subject with flash photography.
Next time I will continue on by discussing the red-eye reduction setting with the flash setting and how cameras meter light. Until then, permission to come ashore!