I know this stuff was published last year, but these tips are just so good, I thought it was worth visiting them again just in case they might have slipped past you. The follow is from Stu’s DSLR Next Steps tutorial on using flash:
Camera flash is often thought of as the tool we use to take pictures in dark settings. Flash can be used for just that purpose, but there are more ways to use flash beyond just dumping a bucket of light onto a scene.
Light is what photography is all about. When photographers assess a scene they can choose to add light, subtract it, modify it or accept the light as it is. Sometimes these decisions are made for practical reasons, other times for creative purposes.
The most common lighting challenge faced by photographers is too little light for proper exposure and camera flash is the number one tool used to add more light. We have all experienced this in action whether we use a compact camera or a DSLR. The built-in flash on our cameras will automatically fire if there isn’t enough light and we have the camera set for an Easy Mode or Auto-Flash.
To use our flash units for greatest effect sometimes we have to take control. In the easy modes (Green, Portrait, Sports, Scenic, Macro etc.) the camera retains full control of the flash and the photographer cannot force the flash to fire. If the camera is set for a creative mode (Program, Shutter – Tv, Aperture – Av, or Manual) the photographer has full control over the flash firing still with automatic exposure.
Flash can not only add light to a dark scene it can also add light to remove shadows in a bright scene. The most common example of this is a portrait outdoors. If the subject is standing outdoors and we take a shot without flash we will notice dark pockets of shadow under the chin and nose plus the eyes will be in shadow too. This is because there is too much contrast in the scene.
In our example, the subject’s cheeks and forehead are catching the full light of the sun yet the brow ridge, nose and chin create shadows on the face and neck. The difference between the bright forehead and the darker eye sockets is the contrast range of the scene. If we expose for the eyes the rest of the face will be so overexposed it will be without detail. The best choice is to reduce the amount of contrast in the scene.
By adding camera flash to the scene we illuminate the dark pockets over the eyes and under the chin and nose. This technique is referred to as fill flash. The subject’s eyes come to life because the flash adds catch-lights and sparkle to the eyes.
Putting this advice into action is very easy. On a DSLR set the camera for Program mode (“P”) and manually pop up the flash. On a compact camera find the flash control button and set the flash to always fire – indicated by a lighting bolt icon.
It is a good practice to always use flash when photographing people – indoors or out. About the only exception is when the flash output would disturb a candid moment. The reduction in contrast is flattering and the results are much more pleasing. So our first use for flash other than to add light to a dark scene is to use flash to reduce contrast in portraits.
Flash can also add light at an angle which can help reveal texture. This isn’t usually possible with the built-in flash of a compact camera, but with a DSLR and an accessory camera flash used off-camera and to one side the results can be stunning. This is called side lighting.
Flash that is used off-camera still needs to have a connection back to the camera so that it knows when to fire and how much light it needs to supply. Most cameras and flash units can be connected for off-camera use by using a flash sync cord. Some cameras can cordlessly control select off-camera flash units using the light from its built-in flash too!
Our second instance when flash should be used is when we need to reveal the texture of the subject.
We have discussed two good reasons to use camera flash for more than just adding light to a dark scene. Using flash for people pictures will always be beneficial and using off-camera flash is useful when we need to show the texture of a subject. There are many more opportunities to use flash with your digital camera to improve our images. Start with these two and refine your flash skills, then branch out and learn more, perhaps about multiple flash lighting techniques. After a while you’ll begin to appreciate just how versatile camera flash is as a photographic tool.
See Porter’s accessory flashes for DSLR’s here! Add an accessory flash to your DSLR for better flash pictures and greater control.