There is a general rule in photography that the camera will be able to record whatever the human eye can see, as the two work very similar in principle. But sometimes you need a little bit of help to get the right setting or mood, and this is where making use of a flash comes in. Lighting plays a huge role in setting the tone for the shoot, and even when it seems as if there is enough surrounding or ambient light, there probably isn’t.

Types of flash

The most common type of flash is the one that is built into most camera models. These pop-up flash units are pretty good for taking casual images in low-light environments, but they are not very effective in doing anything more than highlighting the subject from straight on. It’s from using the built-in flash that the dreaded redeye-effect appears in photos. Then you get a flashgun, which is actually just a fancy name given to what is generally known as just a flash. They slot into a camera’s hot shoe, the small metallic area that is usually on top of the built-in flash. While they can be pretty expensive, shop around for cheaper options. Professional studio photographers will link their flash trigger with multiple remote flash units, which is housed in special reflective materials positioned on tripods. We’re not going to get into those, as you will probably never use them for casual photography.

Here is how you do it

It is true that most digital SLR cameras on the market have incredibly high ISO levels, which makes it possible to shoot in almost complete darkness, but by using a flash correctly you can create art. One of the first steps towards successful flash shooting is knowing your equipment – which actually goes for all new pieces of hardware. Before you take it for a flash around town, sit down and read the manual and even read up on how other photographers have used it. For the purpose of this article we will just look at basic flash, so don’t feel confused if you have heard the terms rear curtain sync or off-camera flash before but don’t know what it is.

For successful flash shooting, you have to decide before-hand what type of mood do you want to create. Do you want to highlight a specific feature? Do you want to bounce light an object? Or do you just want to illuminate a general area? There are specific techniques for each of those scenarios, but the most generally used is Master Fill-in flash. That is where you use flash to eliminate the dark areas or shadows created by other light sources, such as the sun when outdoors. Fill-in flash is one of the easiest flash techniques to master, and all you have to do is position yourself so that the flash will “fill in” the dark areas. Here the pop-up flash will work brilliantly, but it won’t hurt to experiment a little bit with angles and flash intensity.

What is exposure compensation?

Most cameras have a button that read Av with a plus and a minus sign inside a square. Well, congratulations, you have found the exposure compensation buttons. In simple terms, it allows you to manually change the brightness of your images. You can use exposure compensation to fine tune your settings for low-light photography, or where the ambient light is too harsh. It is similar to setting the brightness or contrast on a television set. While the camera’s native software is pretty good at compensating for light issues, pressing the + button will lighten the exposure, making white colours brighter. The opposite is true for the – button, as that will make the entire image darker.

As with most things in photography, it is better to experiment with different settings and scenarios and see which ones work the best for you and the situation that you are in.

[Image – CC by 2.0/Ian Wedlock]
Charlie started his professional life as a motoring journalist for a community newspaper in Mpumalanga, Charlie explored different journalistic angles since his entry into the fast-paced world of publishing in 2006. While fostering a passion for the arts, Charlie developed a love for technology – both which allowed him to serve as Entertainment and Technology Editor for an online publication. Charlie has since been heavily involved in consumer technology for various websites and publications. He thoroughly enjoys World War II films and cerebral documentaries; aviation; photography and indie music. Oh yes, and he also has a rather strange obsession with collecting coffee mugs from his travels.