Camera Flash: When Not To Use It

Fact: Digital Camera Flash May Not Help Your Photography

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Your digital camera flash has a limited range and may not be suitable for photography at floodlight events. Explore how to take a better picture on these big occasions.

Do you go to major events at night and watch the grandstands erupt in sea of camera flashes. Ever wonder how they turned out? What many people end up with is a great photo of the head of the person in front of them, set against the background of a dark and grainy suggestion of the event. What went wrong? The digital camera decided there was not enough light, so the camera flash fired automatically.

There are two things wrong here. One is that all flash units have a limited range. A sample of digital camera reviews on steves-digicams reveals that the expected maximum usable distance for inbuilt camera flashes is not much more than ten feet. Therefore, you need to get close to the action to make a digital camera flash effective. They are perfect for snapshots of friends and lovers, but not really designed for capturing the drama of a night football game.

There is a contradiction at work here, as using the flash actually makes your photograph worse. Low light photography requires a slower shutter speed and a wide aperture setting. However, when the digital camera is relying on the camera flash unit it knows there will be plenty of light up to ten feet away, so it selects a smaller aperture, and faster shutter speed. These settings are optimized for the target area of the flash, but are unsuitable for the areas outside the flash’s range.

Turning the flash off allows the digital camera to select more suitable settings for a floodlight arena or stage. This event lighting should be enough to get some sort of image without the assistance of flash. Let the camera’s inbuilt meter automatically select a slow shutter speed and a wide lens aperture, to make the most of the limited light. Because the shutter will be open longer than normal, you need to hold the camera steady. While this may sound obvious, with slow shutter speeds it is not simple, this is why serious photographers commonly use tripods and monopods.

Often it is not practical to use tripods and monopods in a crowded grandstand. There are techniques to help minimize the inevitable digital camera shake when slow shutter speeds are used. First, balance your body and, if possible, brace yourself against something solid, such as a wall or seat. Then bring your elbows in firmly against your chest, and using the viewfinder hold your camera firmly against your head. Finally breathe, not too deep, and then hold it while you squeeze the shutter release.

This approach will produce better images than using the camera flash so next time try a few shots with the flash and a few without and decide for yourself.

Amazing Photography Blogs I

Because I’m kind, I’m going to share to you 10 Amazing Photography blogs that will surely inspire to take more photos.

Here they are:

1. Positive Negative

2. Flak Photo

3. Lanpher Photoblog

4. Verve Photo

5. The Occasional Odd Crop

6. Cazurro dot com

7. Puja Parakh

8. These Fleeting Moments

9. Static

10. Daily Dose of Imagery

Source: 10,000 Words

LCD or Viewfinder on my Digital Camera?

Lcd

One of the things about digital cameras that makes them so appealing is the little LCD screen display on the back of them.

When I used a film SLR I used to take meticulous notes of the settings that I used when taking photos – noting frame number, aperture and shutter speed down after most shots so that a week or two later when I got my photos back from the lab I could compare my notes with the shots and work out how I might improve my photography.

The LCD screen on digital cameras cuts out the need for this process as images can be viewed immediately after they are taken and adjustments can be made to improve your shots straight away.

If you like to record your images settings for future analysis, most digital cameras will do this for you – to be viewed later either on your camera (using the ‘info’ function when in playback on many cameras) or on your computer.

LCD as a Viewfinder?

One question I get asked a lot by readers is whether they should use their digital camera’s LCD screen or viewfinder to frame their shots. I suspect that the majority of camera owners do use the LCD but there are a number of arguments both for and against it. Let me explore a few:

Viewfinder-1

Why to use the LCD to frame shots

  • Convenience – Perhaps the main reason that people use the LCD is convenience. Rather than having to fire up the camera, raise it to your eye, squint through it (on many point and shoot models it’s quite small) etc… using the LCD means you simply switch the camera on and from almost any position you can snap a shot.
  • Size – As I hinted above – many models of digital cameras have very small view finders and when compared with the LCD (usually between 1.5 and 2.5 inches these days) there is really not that much of a comparison.
  • Instant Playback – shooting with the LCD means that after you take your shot you will immediately see the shot you’ve taken flashed onto the screen. You can see this if you use the viewfinder too by lowering the camera but it adds another action to the process.
  • Creativity – using the LCD opens up all kinds of creative opportunities for your photography by meaning that you don’t have to have the camera at eye level to be able to get your framing right. You can instead put it up high or down low and still be able to line things up well.
  • Framing Inaccuracy of Optical Viewfinders on Point and Shoots – one of the most common complaints about using the viewfinder on digital cameras is that what you see through it is slightly different to what the camera is actually seeing as the view finder is generally positioned above and to the left of the lens which means it is slightly different (a problem called parallax). Most viewfinders that have this will give you a guide as to where to frame your shot but it can be a little difficult – especially when taking close up/macro shots. (note that not all point and shoot cameras have optical viewfinders – some have electronic ones (see below).
  • Obstructed View – on some models of point and shoot digital cameras a fully extended zoom can actually obstruct the view from your viewfinder. This can be quite frustrating.
  • Glasses Wearers – if you wear glasses you might find using the viewfinder of your Digital camera more difficult. Many these days do come with a little diopter adjuster to help with this.

Why not to use LCD to frame shots

  • Battery Killer – the LCD on your camera chews up battery power faster than almost any other feature on your camera. Use it not only for viewing shots taken but lining them up and you’ll need to recharge a lot more regularly.
  • Camera Shake – when shooting with the LCD as a viewfinder you need to hold your camera away from your body (often at arms length). This takes the camera away from your solid and still torso and into midair (only supported by your outstretched arms) – this increased the chance that your camera will be moving as you take the shot which will result in blurry shots.
  • Competing Light – one problem that you will often have with framing your shots using the LCD is that for many cameras, shooting in bright light will make it difficult to see the LCD – leaving it looking washed out. Digital camera manufacturers are trying to overcome this with brighter and clearer screens but using the viewfinder instead of the LCD will generally overcome the problem.
  • DSLRs – most DSLRs do not give you the opportunity to use the LCD as a viewfinder at all. I suspect that this feature will become more available however as I hear it being asked for quite a bit. I’m not sure I’d ever use it though as DSLR view finders are generally larger and are a WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) meaning you can be sure that what you’re looking at through the view finder is what the image will be when you shoot.
  • Electronic View Finders (EVF) – another type of view finder that is found on some point and shoot digital cameras is the EVF one. This overcomes the problem of your viewfinder and camera seeing slightly different things by giving you an exact picture of the scene you’re photographing in the viewfinder. This happens simply by putting a little LCD in the viewfinder.

Ultimately the choice in using the LCD or viewfinder will come down to personal preference. I have used a variety of digital cameras over the past few years and find myself using both methods depending upon the shooting situation and the camera. Some cameras have large and clear viewfinders (like my DSLR) and so I use them. Others have tiny viewfinders (in fact my latest point and shoot, the Fujifilm Finepix F10, doesn’t have one at all).

Given the choice between a great viewfinder and great LCD I’d probably opt for the viewfinder – call me a traditionalist but it just feels right for me.

Head over to our Flickr group to have your say on what you use – viewfinder or LCD?

Source:  Digital Photography School

5 Easy Photo Tips To Create Amazing Blur Images

In most cases the main purpose in making a good shot is to make the image as sharp as possible. But there are cases, when adding movement to your pictures can result inimpressive and splendid shots. Let’s try it out.

When the object in a frame is moving, the final image is always blurred, unless the optical exposure is short enough to fix the object. The degree of blur depends on two things: how fast the object is moving and how long the exposure is.

Surely, you can’t always control the movement of an object you are shooting; still you can control and adjust your exposure to get the effect you want. That’s what we’re going to do.

That’s the effect from shooting night streets with traffic with long exposure.

traffic

In theory, everything that moves could be the object for your shooting – traffic, people, flowers in wind, animals and lots more. It all depends on your fantasy. The technique is easy, yet the results can be astonishing and amazing.

nullThat’s what happens when you shoot flowers in heavy wind with a 1 second exposure.

1. Always use the tripod. It’s obvious that when you set a long exposure it becomes impossible to shoot with your hands only. You have to show the movement of an object, not the movement of your camera.

2. Shoot on a cloudy day. Sunny days are not very suitable for such techniques for several reasons. First of all, bright lighting often doesn’t allow using long exposures. Second, bright lights make high contrast images and the exposition will be unsatisfying so you’ll lose the details.

3. Use a filter. Shooting in faint lights often can affect the color balance. Many pictures could have blue gradations for example. In this case 81A, 81B and 81C filters will do.

4. The exposure. Any exposure longer than 1\125 sec could provide the blurring effect of moving objects. Still, a small degree of blurring could be regarded as you mistake or incompetence, so pay attention. In order to get the blurring effect that looks intentionally made you can start from 1\2 seconds exposure and go on. Make some shots, experiment and practice.

5. Set your camera to the exposure priority mode (Tv), so that you could always control your exposure.


Moving objects shot using long exposure could result in totally abstract images. These black birds were shot using the 1\2 seconds exposure.

Different Digital Camera Modes

Digital-Camera-Modes

Automatic Modes

Automatic Mode

I suspect no one will need any introduction to this mode (as it seems most digital camera owners use it). Auto mode tells your camera to use it’s best judgement to select shutter speed, aperture, ISO, white balance, focus and flash to take the best shot that it can. With some cameras auto mode lets you override flash or change it to red eye reduction. This mode will give you nice results in many shooting conditions, however you need to keep in mind that you’re not telling your camera any extra information about the type of shot you’re taking so it will be ‘guessing’ as to what you want. As a result some of the following modes might be more appropriate to select as they give your camera a few more hints (without you needing to do anything more).

Portrait Mode

Portrait-Mode-1When you switch to portrait mode your camera will automatically select a large aperture (small number) which helps to keep your background out of focus (ie it sets a narrow depth of field – ensuring your subject is the only thing in focus and is therefore the centre of attention in the shot). Portrait mode works best when you’re photographing a single subject so get in close enough to your subject (either by zooming in or walking closer) so that your photographing the head and shoulders of them). Also if you’re shooting into the sun you might want to trigger your flash to add a little light onto their face.

Macro Mode

Macro-1Macro mode lets you move your closer into your subject to take a close up picture. It’s great for shooting flowers, insects or other small objects. Different digital cameras will have macro modes with different capabilities including different focussing distances (usually between 2-10cm for point and shoot cameras). When you use macro mode you’ll notice that focussing is more difficult as at short distances the depth of field is very narrow (just millimeters at times). Keep your camera and the object you’re photographing parallel if possible or you’ll find a lot of it will be out of focus. You’ll probably also find that you won’t want to use your camera’s built in flash when photographing close up objects or they’ll be burnt out. Lastly – a tripod is invaluable in macro shots as the depth of field is so small that even moving towards or away from your subject slightly can make your subject out of focus. (I’ll write a full tutorial on Macro Photography in the coming weeks).

Landscape Mode

Landscape-Icon-1This mode is almost the exact opposite of portrait mode in that it sets the camera up with a small aperture (large number) to make sure as much of the scene you’re photographing will be in focus as possible (ie it give you a large depth of field). It’s therefore ideal for capturing shots of wide scenes, particularly those witch points of interest at different distances from the camera. At times your camera might also select a slower shutter speed in this mode (to compensate for the small aperture) so you might want to consider a tripod or other method of ensuring your camera is still.

Sports Mode

Sports-Icon-1Photographing moving objects is what sports mode (also called ‘action mode’ in some cameras) is designed for. It is ideal for photographing any moving objects including people playing sports, pets, cars, wildlife etc. Sports mode attempts to freeze the action by increasing the shutter speed. When photographing fast moving subjects you can also increase your chances of capturing them with panning of your camera along with the subject and/or by attempting to pre focus your camera on a spot where the subject will be when you want to photograph it (this takes practice).

Night Mode

Night-1This is a really fun mode to play around with and can create some wonderfully colorful and interesting shots. Night mode (a technique also called ’slow shutter sync’) is for shooting in low light situations and sets your camera to use a longer shutter speed to help capture details of the background but it also fires off a flash to illuminate the foreground (and subject). If you use this mode for a ’serious’ or well balanced shot you should use a tripod or your background will be blurred – however it’s also fun to take shots with this handheld to purposely blur your backgrounds – especially when there is a situation with lights behind your subject as it can give a fun and experimental look (great for parties and dance floors with colored lights).

Movie Mode

Movie-2This mode extends your digital camera from just capturing still images to capturing moving ones. Most new digital cameras these days come with a movie mode that records both video but also sound. The quality is generally not up to video camera standards but it’s a handy mode to have when you come across that perfect subject that just can’t be captured with a still image. Keep in mind that moving images take up significantly more space on your memory storage than still images.

Other less common modes that I’ve seen on digital cameras over the past year include:

  • Panoramic/Stitch Mode – for taking shots of a panoramic scene to be joined together later as one image.
  • Snow Mode – to help with tricky bright lighting at the snow
  • Fireworks Mode – for shooting firework displays
  • Kids and Pets Mode – fast moving objects can be tricky – this mode seems to speed up shutter speed and help reduce shutter lag with some pre focussing
  • Underwater Mode – underwater photography has it’s own unique set of exposure requirements
  • Beach Mode – another bright scene mode
  • Indoor Mode – helps with setting shutter speed and white balance
  • Foliage Mode – boosts saturation to give nice bold colors

Semi Automatic Modes

Aperture Priority Mode (A or AV)

This mode is really a semi-automatic (or semi-manual) mode where you choose the aperture and where your camera chooses the other settings (shutter speed, white balance, ISO etc) so as to ensure you have a well balanced exposure. Aperture priority mode is useful when you’re looking to control the depth of field in a shot (usually a stationary object where you don’t need to control shutter speed). Choosing a larger number aperture means the aperture (or the opening in your camera when shooting) is smaller and lets less light in. This means you’ll have a larger depth of field (more of the scene will be in focus) but that your camera will choose a faster shutter speed. Small numbers means the opposite (ie your aperture is large, depth of field will be small and your camera will probably choose a faster shutter speed).

Shutter Priority Mode (S or TV)

Shutter priority is very similar to aperture priority mode but is the mode where you select a shutter speed and the camera then chooses all of the other settings. You would use this mode where you want to control over shutter speed (obviously). For example when photographing moving subjects (like sports) you might want to choose a fast shutter speed to freeze the motion. On the flip-side of this you might want to capture the movement as a blur of a subject like a waterfall and choose a slow shutter speed. You might also choose a slow shutter speed in lower light situations.

Program Mode (P)

Some digital cameras have this priority mode in addition to auto mode (in a few cameras Program mode IS full Auto mode… confusing isn’t it!). In those cameras that have both, Program mode is similar to Auto but gives you a little more control over some other features including flash, white balance, ISO etc. Check your digital camera’s manual for how the Program mode differs from Automatic in your particular model.

Fully Manual Mode

Manual Mode

In this mode you have full control over your camera and need to think about all settings including shutter speed, aperture, ISO, white balance, flash etc. It gives you the flexibility to set your shots up as you wish. Of course you also need to have some idea of what you’re doing in manual mode so most digital camera owners that I have anything to do with tend to stick to one of the priority modes.

Source: Digital Photography School

Understanding Exposure

Digital cameras can handle some exposure error, but understanding exposure properly can certainly help improve your photography.

Exposure is all about how much light you let into the camera.

Too much, and your photos will be washed out, too little and they’ll be too dark.

It is possible to correct a poorly exposed image using software afterwards.

However, there are a few reasons why you should avoid this. Some of those reasons are listed below:

  • If you’ve overexposed you’ll end up with blown highlights – you can never recover detail in these areas of a photograph.
  • If you’ve underexposed, the same applies as with blown highlights. There’s no data recorded in these areas, and you can never recover any detail.
  • It’s difficult to get good contrast in poorly exposed photos
  • It’s difficult to get good colour saturation in poorly exposed photographs
  • It takes up lots of your time correcting things later on! Better to get it right when you take the photo
  • Light meters in cameras can be fooled by certain lighting conditions.

Consequently, it helps to have an understanding of exposure before you press the shutter!

The information here is aimed at digital SLR owners. This is because if you use a compact digital camera you have limited options when it comes to adjusting exposure.

Compact digital cameras will work out the exposure for you, so you don’t have to!

It’s still worth reading on though, as it might give you a better understanding of how your camera is working, and you never know, one day you might decide to splash out on a digital SLR!

And if all this talk of properly understanding exposure completely puts you off ever getting a digital SLR, don’t worry. You can always set a digital SLR to “auto”, and it will handle the exposure for you; or you can come back to this page and take control of setting exposure for yourself!

Understanding exposure – what affects exposure?

There are only three things that can make a difference to the exposure. And two of those involve how much light comes into the camera.

  • The shutter speed
  • The aperture
  • The “film speed”

Understanding exposure – Shutter speed

In understanding exposure, you need to understand shutter speed. The shutter speed is a measure of how long the shutter stays open. All the time it is open, light can enter the camera and falls on the image sensor.

The longer it stays open, the more light enters. If it’s open for too long, the photo will be overexposed. Not open for long enough and your photo will be too dark.

It’s worth mentioning here that the amount of time we are talking about is usually measured in fractions of seconds. In fact, 1/30th of a second is considered slow! It’s common for a digital SLR to be capable of shutter speeds in excess of 1/4000th of a second!

Click to learn more on how shutter speed affects exposure and how to use the shutter speed for creative effects.

Understanding exposure – Aperture

The Aperture? The what? In understanding exposure you need to know what the aperture is and does.

As with shutter speed, the aperture is also a way of controlling how much light enters the camera.

The aperture is an adjustable hole in the lens. It can open to allow more light in. Or it can close to become just a tiny hole, stopping so much light from entering.

Aperture and shutter speed work together – if you have a slow shutter speed (to let more light in) you have to close the aperture to compensate. And visa versa – if you have a fast shutter speed (letting less light in) you have to open the aperture to allow in more light to compensate.

Click for an explanation of how aperture can be used creatively to control depth of field.

Understanding exposure – “film speed”

Film speed? On a digital photography site? I must be kidding! Well. No. For understanding exposure it helps to know about film speed, or ISO. Let me explain . . .

In the old days we would load film into our cameras. The most common film was called ISO 100. The ISO rating was a measure of how sensitive the film was to light.

ISO 100 was fine for everyday use in good light. But if the light levels dropped, you had to compensate by having a slow shutter speed, and a nice wide aperture.

The problem? Once your aperture was fully open (to let as much light in as possible), and your shutter speed was as slow as you could manage and still hold the camera steady (to avoid blurring the shot), and there still wasn’t enough light . . . You loaded more sensitive film into your camera!

The sensitivity of film doubled from ISO 100 to ISO 200. It then doubled again to ISO 400 . . . and so on. The highest you could go as a consumer was ISO 1600. ISO 6400 was available, but only really sold in the pro shops.

So what’s this got to do with digital photography? Digital SLRs allow you to set the ISO manually. So if it gets dark, you can increase the ISO. The downside is digital noise – a speckling effect on photos.

This speckling occurred in the days of film too. The higher the film speed, the more speckling. Back then we called it film grain, and it can be used to good effect.

Source: Digital Photography Tips

Dealing With Backgrounds

Backgrounds present both opportunities and challenges to photographers. On the one hand they can put a subjects in context and make it stand out in a way that highlights it wonderfully – but on the other hand backgrounds can overwhelm subjects and distract from them.

Some of the common problems that photographers have with backgrounds include:

  • Distracting Focal Points – we’ve all seen this happen – we line up a shot of a friend to take as a portrait and just as we press the shutter someone else pops their head up over their shoulder with a silly face. The result is that the real focal point of the shot becomes the face pulling person. This is an extreme example of distracting focal points in the background but it’s something that happens quite a lot.
  • Protruding Elements from Subjects Heads – I nearly didn’t include this one but it’s so common that I just had to mention it. When shooting a portrait one of the common mistakes is for some background element to look like it’s sticking up out of a person’s head – like a horn. It’s often trees (as in the photo to the left) but could be anything. These shots can be quite comical but can also really throw the composition of a shot off.
  • Competing Lines – if your subject has lines in it and your background also has strong lines they can compete in such a way that the image becomes busy or so that the lines clash with one another.

So how do we deal with these problems?

1. Check your Background Before Hitting the Shutter Release

Ok – this strategy isn’t rocket science, in fact you’d think it almost goes without saying – but unfortunately it doesn’t and many of the mistakes that I see in photographs could have been avoided simply by checking the background before taking the shot and taking some sort of evasive action.

Always scan the background of your shots before taking a shot. Look for colors that don’t fit with the rest of the image, bright patches that might distract the eye, lines that clash, people that don’t belong etc.

2. Move Your Subject

This is once again a fairly simple technique but is probably the first thing you should consider. Quite often asking a portrait subject to take a step to the left or right will fix things either by putting the distraction behind them or by putting it out of frame.

Background-Blur-1

Photo by alterednate

3. Change your Shooting Angle

If you have distracting elements in the background of a shot but can’t move your subject another strategy is to move yourself and shoot from a new angle. This might mean rotating around your subject but could also include getting down low to make the sky the background or even getting up high and shooting down onto your subject to make the background the ground.

4. Using Aperture to Blur Backgrounds

One of the most useful things to learn as a way to combat distractions in backgrounds (and foregrounds) is to use the power of your lens to throw the background out of focus using depth of field. What you’re trying to achieve with this technique is a nice blurred background where you can’t really make out what’s going on there.

The easiest way to do this is to use a wide aperture (the smaller the number the wider the aperture). The wider your aperture the more blurry your background should become.

The quickest way to see the impact of this strategy is to switch your camera into aperture priority mode and to take a number of shots at different apertures. Start with an aperture of f/20 and work your way down – one stop at a time. Once you get down to under f/4 you’ll start seeing the background in your shots getting blurrier and blurrier.

5. Using Focal Length to Blur Backgrounds

Another way to help get your backgrounds nice and blurry is to use a lens with a long focal length. Longer tele-photo do help a little to get narrower depth of field (although the amount is less than many think). In actual fact the impact is smaller than it seems and the main reason for the change is that with a longer focal length the subject actually takes up more space in the frame. Lots of arguements have been had over whether focal length impacts this – you can read more about it here and here – I’ll leave it to the experts to discuss the finer points but will say that using longer focal lengths does seem to have some impact and is worth experimenting with.

6. Place Subjects In front of Open Spaces

Placing your subject a long way in front of other objects will also help to make those objects more blurry. For example if you have the choice between shooting your subject standing right in front of a brick wall or standing in front of an open field – the open field shot will have a much more blurred background simply because the brick wall is just centimeters from your subject and inside the focal range whereas an open field stretches off into the distance where everything will be out of focus.

7. Fill your frame with your subject

One of the most effective ways of removing distractions from backgrounds is to remove the background altogether by totally filling the frame with your subject. Get up close and/or use your zoom lens to tightly frame the shot and you’ll not only remove distractions but could end up with a high impact shot as well.

Background

Photo by Keith Morris

8. Make your Own Background

Sometimes there just isn’t any suitable background and so you might want to consider making your own. This could range from buying a purpose built studio background or simply buying some cloth to do the job for you.

I know of one keep photographer who goes out shooting photographic portraits and carries large colored sheets of card with him to put up on walls to act as a background.

The other thing to keep in mind is that in many instances you can move things around in the background of your shots (especially if you’re shooting indoors). For example I was recently photographed in my home for a newspaper and the photographer had me move a number of pieces of furniture during the shoot because they were distracting in the shots. It took a little effort but the impact in the shots was quite incredible.

9. Post Processing

I’m no expert in using photo editing software but there are numerous ways of editing a shot after you’ve taken it to get rid of distracting elements. These can include blurring techniques, actual removing of elements and replacing them and techniques such as selective coloring (ie making your subject stand out by making your background black and white (or at least sucking some of the color out of it).

Source: Digital Photography School