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Fortunately, it isn't difficult to get great results from flash, and in this course, photographer, author, and teacher Ben Long details the concepts and techniques behind effective lighting with flash. Ben starts with fundamentals that build on exposure principles taught in other installments of Foundations of Photography—simple techniques that improve the results from a camera's built-in flash. He then focuses on fill flash techniques and on using flash as a key light. The course also explores topics ranging from bouncing and syncing flash to shooting with one or more off-camera flash units.
- How flash works
- Balancing ambient light and flash
- Understanding flash ranges and modes
- When to use fill flash
- Using an external flash
- Bouncing flash to improve light
- Building up multiple flash images
- Purchasing a flash
Skill Level Appropriate for all
By now, you should be well acquainted with the idea of balancing your flash exposure with your ambient exposure. When you get into very, very low light, you get to very extreme balancing act. And that's what we're going to look at here. If you've ever taken a flash picture at night, or in a very dark, room, and found that you had a subject that was brightly lit, and a background that was completely dark. That's bad balance between your flash and your ambient lighting. Your camera possibly has a mode on it, that will automatically take care of doing that. We're going to build up a solution in a manual way, so that you can see exactly how this works.
So lets say that I come into my friend Heather's painting studio. And I find her at her easel painting and in the distance is her subject. And I want to take a picture of both of them. The situation that we're describing here, is basically any situation where you have a foreground object that you want to shoot, and something in the background that you want to preserve, but you're in a very low light situation. So I might start here by, simply trying to shoot this without a flash. But when I start metering this scene, it's way too slow for handheld shooting, even at a high ISO.
So I'm going to jump right into using my flash. I've got a pop up flash here on the camera. It's all I've got with me. So that's just what I'm going to use. Yes, I spend a lot of time in this course saying, you gotta get your flash off the camera. But still, in many situations, a popup flash is better than no flash at all. And this is definitely one of those situations. I'm putting my ISO on 100. Because I'm shooting in program mode, I'm going to just start at the most basic level. I want to keep my noise levels low, so I've got my ISO down low. I'm in program mode just beause I figure, I'll give the camera a chance to try and figure all this out.
So for this scene, so that you can see Heather at her easel, we had to turn on a light. That's just to get a bunch of extra light into the video camera. My eye is actually much more sensitive than that. Even without this extra light on, I'm going to be able to see her. So to simulate really what we are doing here, I'm going to ask Lauren to turn off Heather's light for the moment. So she may look a lot darker to you now. She actually looks darker to me. But I can still see her just fine. I would still recognize this as a photo that I want to take. So I'm just going to frame up the shot. I half pressed the shutter button and you see some flash going off there.
That is not a metering flash. That's an auto focus assist flash. If you have watched my night and low light shooting, you know that your camera might use its flash, to get some light into it, into the scene. So that your auto focus mechanism can actually lock and focus. So That's all that's doing. It's giving me a sixtieth of a second at, at four. I'm in program mode. That's why I'm a sixtieth of a second. Program mode won't let me go any slower than that. So I'm just going to fire that off. And here's my shot, this is exactly what I was talking about. Heather is nicely lit, the background is underexposed.
I had bad balance between my flash exposure and my ambient exposure. I also couldn't tell where the top of the frame was, because it's dark. So Heather's got all this headroom above her that I don't like, So I'll try and fix that when I reshoot. So how do I solve this exposure problem? Well, when something is too dark, I have a few options. I can turn up my ISO. I can slow down my shutter speed. I don't know that I want to slow down my shutter speed because I don't want to risk handheld shake. And this camera has very good high ISO response. So I'm going to crank my ISO up to 1600. . Then try another shot. I'm going to try figure out where the top of the frame is here without cutting her head off.
Just because it's good to be polite to your subject. So here we go. At ISO 1600, yes the background is a little bit brighter. Note that though the camera has done a very good job of mostly keeping the flash exposure constant. It has included that higher ISO in its automatic flash calculation. I'm in TTL mode here on my manual, I'm on my, on my popup flash. So that's very nice. It's done a good job of that. But the background is still too dark. It's that sixtieth of a second that's getting me. That is, of course, what's controlling my ambient, exposure.
And it's just too fast to shutter speed. I need to slow it down. So I'm going here through the exact same process I would go through if I was shooting without a flash. I take a shot. I try raising my ISO if I need to. And as a last resort, I start slowing my shutter speed down. I say last resort because I'm going to risk hand held shutter, hand held camera shake. I cannot slow my shutter speed down in program mode. Sixtieth of a second is the limit. Your camera may have a different limit. It may go faster, it may not have a limit at all. This one does. So I'm going to switch over to shutter priority mode. That's going to give me shutter speed control.
I'm still at ISO 1,600. There's my focusing flash, and now I'm just following the light meter. When it meters I'm at an eighth of a second, and it's flashing my aperture inside the viewfinder. That means that it's complaining about an exposure problem, so I'm going to just slow my shutter speed down until it stops. It's saying a fifth of a second. going to be very careful to stabilize. And take that longer shutter speed shot, and lookie here, now I've got nice detail in the background. I've got good flash exposure, and I've got good exposure on the mannequin.
I still maybe don't have my framing quite right because it's just hard to frame in the dark, so I would take a few more shots to get that right. Heather has gotten a little bit brighter. I think I'm going to try toning that down a little bit. I can do that with an aperture change or I could do that with flash exposure compensation. I'm going to start with an aperture change because the mannequin is actually a, is, it's, this image is pretty shallow depth of field. The mannequin is out of focus. I'd like to see if I can sharpen her up a little bit. When I say her, I'm referring to the mannequin. Heather is actually in focus.
And so this is going to slow my shutter speed down. I'm going to go to 5/6, which gets me down to half a second. Normally I would warn the subject not to move until I tell them to, because after the flash, people tend to move around. I need them to hold still for my slow shutter speed. Ooh! Wow, and that was a lousy job of handheld shooting. I'm going to try this again. Half a second is difficult. And I do have my image stabilization turned on on my lens. That's looking better and I like that flash exposure better. I don't think I could, well I don't think that here's not that much different actually. I don't think I could go to a smaller aperture because I just can't risk the handheld shake.
And now that I'm looking at this, I'm not seeing a huge difference in flash exposure. The camera again compensated for my aperture I think and corrected the flash. So I'm going to now go to flash exposure compensation. I'm going to give up on my smaller aperture. I'm going to put it back at F4, get back my faster shutter speed. But I'm going to dial my flash exposure down a little bit. Think I'm just going to go a third of a stop. I don't need a lot of darkening here. Put my aperture back to f 4. Actually what I'm doing here is choosing a shutter speed that gets me an aperture of f 4.
I'm choosing that because I want the fastest shutter speed possible. So that's working. Notice that the highlights on her cheeks and on her forehead are looking a little more reasonable. So, I've got good exposure in the foreground and background. I'm using my flash as a key light here. It's serving much the same function that this light, that we just turned back on, is doing. As I've said before, you usually want to stay away from your pop up flash as a keylight. But again, it's the only one I had with me. It has allowed me to get this shot at all. And I like the shot. So there are times when you can bend that rule.
Or, in this case, outright shatter it into a million pieces. So, my thinking here has been the exact same thinking I would use in a low-light shot without a flash. I am balancing ISO and shutter speed. Trading off noise and handheld shake but I am mixing my flash exposure in there and then trying to find a balance between the two. Now, as I mentioned before, your camera may have a built-in mode, something called, this camera does not, but something called night portrait mode or slow sync mode. It might be on your camera's mode dial. It might be something you access from a menu.
When you go into that mode, it's going to automatically mix a long exposure with a flash. It's going to try to balance them for you. On most cameras, though, it will only allow you to shoot in JPEG mode. So if you normally like to shoot in raw, which is a good idea for a shot like this, because you'll usually be mixing flash, white balance with an ambient white balance. And so, want that raw white balance control. So if you are used to shooting in raw. And you want that white balance ability, or the ability to recover highlights. It's best to stay out of those preprogrammed slow sync modes, and stick with manual shutter speed control, either through manual mode or shutter priority.
If your camera doesn't allow mode, if your, raw mode, if you're using a point and shoot camera, then those automatic slow sync modes might be all you have to work with. So when you get into a very dark situation and you want to use flash, remember you're going to lose your background if you don't take extra steps to balance your exposure.