I personally don’t think flash photography is deserving of the bad reputation it has been given. This myth is further perpetuated by the fact that many photography instructors teach their students to avoid using it at all costs. This is not necessarily bad advice because your photos typically turn out better without the flash than with it. Nevertheless, there are some occasions when using flash is unavoidable.
Not the Best Use of Flash
The biggest problem with flash photography is that bringing everything in the shot in focus is a challenge – objects in the foreground are too brightly lit, while those farther away are too dark. And worst of all, everything in between looks entirely out of character. I mean, the whole batch usually has amateur night stamped all over them.
If you are a real amateur taking pictures of people at a party at night indoors with your smartphone, you can expect your photos to turn out bad. For serious photographers, there are ways to take advantage of the varying situations and conditions and get better results.
The Best Use of Flash
Flash is just one of the many tools a photographer has in his arsenal. And just because technology has made the “auto-flash” option on your smartphone so convenient doesn’t mean you have to make that your default camera setting. If you’re serious about photography or care about how your pictures turn out, you should be more deliberate about when and when not to use flash.
The following suggestions should serve as a guide for when and when not to use flash:
When Conditions Dictate
Using flash outdoors on a clear day should be the last thing on your mind. Nature has already provided you with the perfect setting, so why mar it by trying to get too fancy? Besides, today’s camera technology has made it possible to capture great nature-light photos without destroying the moment with flash. For example:
- Night mode: Powered by AI, night mode can produce some fantastic low-light shots. Any professional photographer will tell you that pictures were taken with night mode turn out far better than those with flash.
- Exposure controls: You may not know this, but it is possible to take great natural-light pictures at night just by adjusting the shutter speeds on your camera, like slower shutter speeds, widening the aperture, or setting the ISO higher. This technique isn’t guaranteed to work all the time, but the results when it does work are worth giving it a shot.
- Using a tripod: Using a tripod and reducing the shutter speed significantly is a great way to get those fantastic landscape shots. Besides, capturing the full scope of the scenery just isn’t possible with flash alone.
- Environmental lighting: there is a reason a professional photographer prefers environmental lighting over flash – it looks more natural. When indoors, try to position yourself to take advantage of the natural light coming in from the windows. If not, use available light fixtures that don’t intrude into the shot so much. For outdoors, there’s nothing better than the ambiance created by streetlights or the luminosity produced by quaint storefront windows. So, be creative and take advantage of what the natural and surrounding scenery has to offer.
But, perhaps one of the best and most overlooked pieces of advice ever is, if you don’t have to take the shot immediately, then don’t. Just wait for a better opportunity.
When to Use a Faster Shutter Speed
But slower isn’t always better. Sometimes, to get the best shot, using a faster shutter speed than recommended is the way to go. This is done in cases where you want to give the impression that time is standing still, or the action is moving quickly, and you want to slow it down some, like your dog running after and jumping up to catch a frisbee. When this technique is done in concert with a flash, the results can be incredible!
It should be noted here, however, that this is one of the trickiest techniques in photography, and not everyone will be able to pull it off. So, it may be better for novices to be on the safe side and just stage the shot.
On Those Bright, Sunny Days
As paradoxically as this may sound, there are times when you will need a flash, not because there’s too little light, but because there’s too much of it. Sometimes, the overabundance of sunlight can create harsh shadows in the shot. That is why some photography instructors tell their students to find an overhanging tree or tall building so that its shade can soften the scene a little bit.
Barring that, you can simply use the flash and let it even out the harsh shadows. Professional photographers use this technique a lot, and the results are outstanding and natural-looking.
The Secret to Taking Great Group Photos
Taking great group photos is difficult even when the circumstances are ideal. Everyone seems to want to look at the other person to see what they’re doing or there is that one person who loses patience and moves at the last minute. And, if you don’t get it right the first time, getting them all together again for a retry may not be practical. But, if you want to be a photographer, this is something you’re going to run into a lot.
Now, the shots won’t necessarily be the greatest in the world, but the context of the event will come through loud and clear.
Use Flash When You Want To
I know it may have sounded like I hated flash, with those harsh shadows they inflict on otherwise great photos, but flash is still prevalent. It is making a comeback among some segments, mainly among disposable camera users. So, if you want to use flash, then, by all means, do so. Far worse would be to miss a shot altogether or take one that you wouldn’t want to share with anybody anyway. Take my word for it; it happens to the best of us.
More Tips on Using Flash
So, if you must use flash, there are a few things you can do to ensure better shots:
- Avoid using direct on-camera flash. The light can ricochet off nearby walls and ruin the shot. However, this may not be possible with your phone camera or disposable camera with a built-in flash.
- Try to put some distance between you and your subjects. If the flash is activated too close to the subject, the glare can be too sharp.
- Try to take the guesswork out of using flash. This means you should practice using the flash at various distances and settings to feel how the flash will work under certain circumstances. This will alleviate some of the pressure and guesswork when doing the real thing.
- Use image editing software. You can use image-editing software to adjust the lighting, contrast, and remove redeyes in your photos. They might still look like flash photography, just not as abrasive.
The good news is that most of the time you’ll have multiple opportunities to get the shot right. So, try the image with and without flash, then decide which looks best to you. What do you have to lose?