Automatic flash exposure systems make using flash easier than ever before, but there are some problems that crop-up on a regular basis. In the latest article in her series looking at some of the common mistakes photographers make, our head of testing Angela Nicholson explains some of the classic flash photography mistakes and offers some of her best flash photography tips for avoiding them.
Flash Photography Mistake 01: Not using flash
One of the biggest mistakes that photographers make is to not use their flash.
In many cases this is because they don’t understand how to use it or are unaware of the benefits that flash photography can bring.
Flash is not something that should only be used when there’s not enough light to shoot without it, it’s also extremely useful in bright lighting conditions because it can fill-in deep shadows and help you balance the exposure of your subject with that of the background.
Flash photography can really bring portrait images to life.
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Flash Photography Mistake 02: Using flash with distant subjects
At the other end of the scale from not using flash, this is a common problem for photographers who use their camera on the automatic settings or who wildly over estimate the power of the flash.
You see it a lot a stadium events where the crowd seems to sparkle with all the flashes going off.
Even the light from a powerful flashgun will not illuminate a subject at the centre of a stadium if you’re shooting from the crowd.
Turn the flash off and push the sensitivity setting up instead.
If it’s night-time and you want to leave the decisions to the camera, turn it to Night Scene mode or something similar – don’t use Night Portrait mode though, that will expect a subject within flash range and fire off a burst.
Flash Photography Mistake 03: Red eye
Redeye in portraits is caused by light entering the subject’s eye and bouncing back from the retina into the lens.
Most cameras offer a redeye reduction mode that works by firing a pre-flash that causes the pupil to close down before the main flash and the exposure.
This can work well, but it doesn’t always cure the problem completely.
Another solution is to position the flash further away from the lens so that the light doesn’t bounce straight back down the barrel.
Naturally, this can’t be done with the on-camera flash and instead an external flashgun, which is connected to the camera either wirelessly or by a cord, is used.
In some cases, simply using a hotshoe mounted flashgun rather than a camera’s pop-up flash can be enough because the light source is raised sufficiently above the lens.
Flash Photography Mistake 04: Killing the atmosphere
While a burst of flash can illuminate dark shadows, it can also destroy the atmosphere of a low-light scene.
In some cases it may be better to turn off the flash and extend the shutter speed and if necessary put the camera on a tripod, or push up the sensitivity setting to produce a more natural looking image.
Alternatively, check your flashgun (or camera’s manual) and find out how to adjust the flash exposure compensation so that you can reduce the amount of light that it pushes out.
You could also combine this with a longer exposure (using the slow sync flash mode) so that the background records a little while your nearby subject is illuminated by a small burst of flash.
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