When use your camera’s built in flash (flash basics 2)

The first post in the flash basics series was when not to use flash, as I said in that post I love flash photography (and loving it more every day) but the camera’s built in tiny flash is very limited and we have to work within it’s limitations.

Basically there are only 4 good reasons to use your camera’s built in flash (that I know of):

Fill Flash

Surprisingly the best time to use on-camera flash is when there’s plenty of light, to demonstrate this I’ve convinced a garden gnome to pose for me in the bright mid-day  summer (well, spring) sun, to help with this bright eye-hurting sum I’ve let the gnome use a hat.

As you can see the gnome’s face is in the shadow (in real life the gnome is quite bright) especially you can see dark shadows below the eyes – sometimes those are lovingly referred to “raccoon eyes” – but if we add a little flash:

The shadows on the face aren’t gone (we don’t want them gone) but they are much lighter and not nearly as bad.

To use fill flash on a Canon DSLR just use the Av mode and pop open the flash.

On a Nikon DSLRs it’s a bit more complicated – half press the shutter in your favorite shooting mode and look at the settings the camera selected (aperture, shutter speed and ISO), now switch to manual mode and set the same values, pop up the flash and you’re ready.

On some compacts you have to switch to a special fill flash mode or enable fill flash in the menu, sometimes you will also want to lower the flash power when used as fill, the setting for flash power is usually called “flash exposure compensation”.

When it’s the only way to get the shot

Basically sometimes its better to take a bad picture than no picture at all – but this is not an excuse to use flash when it’s ineffective, only use flash when:

  • The subject is close – your flash maximum range 3-5 meters (approximately 10-15 feet) depending on your camera, and this is for cameras with “real” flashes, if you are using a cell phone with a LED flash the range is even shorter, anything farther than that is just not lit by the flash.

    If you are at a show or a sporting event the action is way too far away the light from you small flash does not reach the stage at all.

  • Long exposure is out of the question – if the subject isn’t moving and you have a few seconds to set up you can still use the ambient light – just switch your camera to “no flash” mode and put it on something steady (or at least lean against something steady) so it doesn’t move.

    This won’t work if it’s completely dark (extremely rare those days) or if the ambient light has a really bad color cast (unfortunately a lot of street lights are like that)

Triggering off camera flash(s)

This is a good reason to use on-camera flash – but a bit too advanced for the second post in the flash basics series, maybe we’ll talk about it in a much later post.

Getting creative

Photography is an art – and there are techniques that use the built in flash to get a specific effect (and not every effect has to make people look good) – if you have a creative technique to use the camera’s built in flash please share in the comments.

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