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Using your camera's flash for fill light

Ever go to a concert and notice how many flashes go off from little portable cameras or cell phones? If you have any understanding of how photographic lighting works you probably either chuckle to yourself or shake your head in quiet disbelief that people just don't get it. Unfortunately the majority of point-and-shoot users don't understand the simple principles of light and how it interacts with their camera.

While today's cameras are highly sophisticated and can do so much they are not miracle makers. We still need to intercede when technology fails. The only problem here is we need to understand when that technology has failed. In this case, we'll be talking about your camera's onboard flash.

While powerful for their size, on-camera flashes do have an effective range. That means that there is only so much space in front of the camera that can effectively be lit by the flash. How far depends on your camera's abilities so take out that manual you threw in that drawer and read up.

Can't find the manual? Try this; Set your camera up at one end of a large room. Get someone to help you or use your camera's self-timer. Take a series of exposures with your subject at increasing distances from the camera. When you review the pictures you will be able to see exactly how your camera's flash behaves at different distances. Now you won't be one of the embarrassed uninitiated who uses flash in a large stadium, lighting the dark open, well, nothingness.

Speaking of darkness, that is when most people think of using their flash, to light the dark. But what about those sunny days? Many times photos taken during the day can benefit from your camera's flash. This is where you have to step in and take an active role in your picture taking. You will need to know how to turn your camera's flash on or temporarily override your camera's settings so you can use the flash during sunny situations. Refer to your camera's instructions to do this.

No Fill Flash
A simple rule of thumb when taking outdoor pictures in bright light is to position your subject with the light coming somewhere from the front. Unfortunately Murphy's law always interferes and other options are needed. This is where your camera's flash comes into play. When the ambient light puts your subject's face into shadow use your flash. The flash will light your subject overriding the ambient light and making your subject pop out of the dark. As you can see from the examples here, using flash greatly improves the look of your subject.

With Fill Flash
One thing to keep in mind is that when you use flash during dusk hours it will make your background go dark. This is caused by the fact that your camera is now relying on the light from the flash, which is brighter, and not from the light in the background, which is darker.

So next time you notice your subject is in shadow, go ahead and use your camera's flash. And when you're at the concert in that big open arena, go ahead and save your batteries.


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