October 2nd, 2010
Since its humble beginnings in the 19th century, flash photography has opened up an entire new realm in printmaking that goes beyond what the human eye can even fathom. Flashes have come in many forms, with the most recent being manufactured within the camera body itself. For professional photographers the flash can be hand held, mounted on a hot-shoe and through many other methods.
Until you are confident in using it, flash photography can seem to be quite tricky. Too much light will wash the subject out taking away all detail, too little light will make the pictures grainy and dark and if the flash is too close to the face your human and animal subjects can attract red-eye. So how is it you can get your photographs taken with a quality that you would be proud display in your photobook?
Let’s take a look first at built-in flash versus external flash. A pop-up flash that comes with the camera will be best for snapshots rather than anything bigger, such as canvas prints; however you are bound by the range of the said flash. You will only be able to light up the area directly in front of you with a minor amount of coverage. Photographs taken in this manner will have an edgy, harsher look about them than those taken with a hand held photos. An external flash usually has more range to it, so you have a better chance of getting your subject in better light.
There are ways in which to create great prints out of any photograph, bowing away from the harsh and washed out images. To do so, first keep in mind that soft lighting is begat from larger areas rather than tight cosy corners. Portable and cheap digital cameras will not have the capability of softer photographs due to the nature of the built-in flash. To achieve the softer images you will need to use a diffuser on your external flash or bounce the light off a white surface or folding reflector. You can station additional lighting around a subject with umbrellas to reflect the flash such as in portrait photography. This way you have the ability to light all the areas that should be lit and to pose your subject(s) away from the light.
Evil red-eye effects can be amusing for some, however most of the time it ruins the photo. Once again, those built-in flashes will cause this in a heartbeat and the only way to rid the subjects of the red-eye effect is to use photo editing software. The external flash is best so that you can have the flash occur further away from your subject(s) and thereby belaying the effect of red-eye. What if your photos turn out too dark? Several things can cause this. Firstly, not all flashes are capable of rapid-fire processing so if you take a couple of images quickly one after the other it is quite possible that the second image will be dark. On the other hand if your background is pitch dark but the foreground isn’t more than likely the ambient (natural light) is too low and too far away from the flash’s coverage area to be lit. More light or a more powerful flash will do the trick.
By now you’re probably wondering how to master control over the flash’s exposure. The lens opening needs to be adjusted per instance. The more light you can let in the better it should be. Also shutter speeds are quite important. Slow shutter speeds (with wider openings) are good for low light wherein faster shutter speeds (with smaller openings) are good for bright ambient lighting. There are flashes that can work in-sync with your camera to produce high speed photography. This method can produce sports shots worthy of a canvas print as well as catching your daughter’s ballet recital in mid-flight for your photobook. Distance and diffusing the light, as previously discussed, is quite important in flash control as well. Each type of flash has its own personality so different rules will attain to each type.
The handle-mount, also known as a grip, is a very high output flash used primarily by professionals. This type of flash will offer you a wide coverage and bright light which is perfect for fast moving or low light situations. The perfect combination for good flash photography with the grip is with supplementation of diffusers and light backgrounds. Do not hold the camera close to the subject and you will have the perfect image.
Macro-flashes are for close-up photography therefore; don’t set up too far away from your subject. These usually fit directly on a macro-zoom lens. You will need to supplement your area with slave lighting (additional flashes) to illuminate a larger subject. Your photobook will look great with these images!
LED flash units are used mostly with camera phones at the moment. However, you can find these in some Pentax models and act as a ring flash. You would still need to have your subject well lit for this type of flash.
Lastly there are electronic flashes that will fit on a hot-shoe on top of the camera. These generally have a decent enough coverage area, somewhere between the grip and the macro, however they will rely on ambient lighting to fill in the shadow and contrast area to provide detail.
When you are using a digital camera some of the best results come from turning off the automatic settings. You will need to adjust the white balance for the surrounding area in which you are to take your shot. Higher numbers for low light, and lower numbers for well lit situations. You will have more control on manual settings so that you can make adjustments more easily as needed.
These are just a few tips on the complicated world of flash photography, but they should get you started!