Have you ever been flashed?

No I don’t mean like that!

I mean when your precious photographs come back with that kind of muddy look and your subject has red and glowing eyes. Actually, you were documenting your friends’ daughter’s christening at the time, but sadly your photos look like you were really in attendance at a satanic ritual. It’s an absolute disaster and your friends are now not talking to you!

So what went wrong? Using flash equipment in some situations can often be a recipe for ruin if you don’t really understand how a flash works. The mechanics behind flash photography can be strangely confusing, for it involves calculating the distance over which an artificial burst of light travels.

Now most of us really don’t want to do interminable measurements with tape measures and mental mathematics before we shoot an event that is impossible to repeat. What we do need to know is the practical limitations of our in camera flash units and what sort of things we can do to create a really well lit flash photograph.

To enhance your knowledge of your unit you could just simply read the camera specifications. These always appear at the back of the camera manual. Oops you threw it away? Well you can always try to find it online at http://www.dpreview.com/ It is an extensive archive of technical aspects of most cameras manufactured in the last fifteen years. Look through their archives and no doubt you will find something useful.

But the real test of flash knowledge is in how you use it. As in the case of our beleaguered photographer who has misguidedly believed that s/he could rely on their small compact point and shoot camera to light an entire cathedral at a christening, they were sadly mistaken about flash photography.

The amount of light that emanates from a flash varies from model to model of compact camera and on camera flash units. The amount of light that a flash produces is measured in terms known as the Guide Number (GN).

The higher the GN, the stronger the flash and the further it will travel to illuminate an object.

So to fill an entire cathedral with flash would require some very large flash units with very high GNs and that of course would be quite expensive and impractical.

So what is the best way to improve a shot where it is very low light? The simplest thing to do of course is to bump up your ISO so that it compensates for the lack of light. And while working with your ISO, shutter and aperture is the ideal situation, if your camera automatically sets all your functions then try and stay a medium distance from your subject. If you get too close, you are liable to burn out the detail in the subject and if you are too far away, you are likely to make the subject appear muddy and dark.

Most compact cameras have enough flash capacity to evenly light a photograph taken within two metres of the subject. This means the ideal type of photograph is a shot from the waist up.

So next time you are taking photos in a darker situation, try and get within two metres of your subject, even if you have to become the extra god parent at the christening.

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