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View Full Version : Teach a newbie how to use the flash properly! (pictures included for discussion)



Debdube
03-15-2006, 10:31 AM
Hello all,

After messing up my photos in the second big occassion due to my lack of knowledge about flash photography (and photography in general actually), I decided that it's really time to seek professional help.

I'm sure my problem is a simple one yet I couldn't figure it out on my own. Basically, I'm shooting photos in bright areas without using the flash and they come out so-so. When I use the flash in the same situation I do get more detailed features naturally, but the lighting and colors get messed up and the bright area suddenly becomes dark in the photo. Here are two photos taken in my brother's graduation; the first one was taken without the flash and the second on the same spot with the flash. White balance was manually set by pointing to some guy wearing white and setting. This made the colors seem more natural through the LCD screen/viewfinder.

No flash:
http://photos.imageevent.com/debdoob/memories/misc/large/137.jpg

With flash:
http://photos.imageevent.com/debdoob/memories/misc/large/138.jpg

Any tips on how to fix that? I'm sure that I'm missing something obvious here :).

cdifoto
03-15-2006, 11:17 AM
That's a darn good flash photo, IMO. I'm not sure where exactly you see a problem unless the "bright area becoming dark" refers to the background.


If so, that's because the camera meters for the background and the flash meters for the subject itself. Lower your shutter speed, increase your ISO and open up your aperture as necessary to balance it out.

Shooting in Av mode will also help because then the flash defaults to a fill only situation rather than primary light.


Personally I'd stick with what you had because the subjects stand out nicely without the background being distractingly bright. This doesn't seem to be a shot where perfect ambience/flash harmony would be all that beneficial.

erichlund
03-15-2006, 11:44 AM
I agree that this photo is better without the distracting background. What you are talking about, for academic purposes, is a situation where the background is a useful part of the photo, but you want the subjects well lit. A classic example of this is a bright daylight photo where the sun is behind the subjects. The reason to put the sun behind the subjects is so they don't squint, but then their faces are in shadow. So you use flash to fill the front, but you set your exposure for the overall view.

In some cameras you will have some sort of fill flash mode. In some you have to figure out how to do it manually, which is really just using a regular exposure but having flash (not synching the exposure to the flash)

Debdube
03-19-2006, 08:54 AM
Thank you for the replies. I still don't know why you think the flash version of that photo looks that much better. I know it's more detailed, but the colors just look off, and the whole 'feel' of the photo is dark, while it's bright and nice in the one without the flash. Maybe I'm looking for something detailed, clear, and with natural colors. Depth of field could probably help focus more on the people rather than the background (portrait scene mode could probably be set like that)? but as I said I am not too fond of the background (and the general feel) of the photo becoming so dark when everything was so vibrant and colorfull in real life.

Next time I shall try messing with the aperture, shutter speed and sensitivity. I am not sure I'll be able to get too far though.

GabOrcinus
03-19-2006, 10:37 AM
It's a matter of taste and personal preference really. Perhaps next time you could use a monopod/tripod.

erichlund
03-19-2006, 11:37 AM
Thank you for the replies. I still don't know why you think the flash version of that photo looks that much better. I know it's more detailed, but the colors just look off, and the whole 'feel' of the photo is dark, while it's bright and nice in the one without the flash. Maybe I'm looking for something detailed, clear, and with natural colors. Depth of field could probably help focus more on the people rather than the background (portrait scene mode could probably be set like that)? but as I said I am not too fond of the background (and the general feel) of the photo becoming so dark when everything was so vibrant and colorfull in real life.

Next time I shall try messing with the aperture, shutter speed and sensitivity. I am not sure I'll be able to get too far though.
Could you give a specific example of a color that was made incorrect with the flash. Obviously, we have only the frame of reference of the two photos and cannot say which is more correct. I agree that there are color differences, but most of what I see are more vibrant color with the flash rather than color shift.

The first key problem with the non-flash photo is that I cannot find the focus plane anywere in that photo, which is to say the entire photo is out of focus. This is where you lost detail, not from anything more mysterious than that. With people photos, you want to focus on the eyes.

I do not know what sort of camera you were using for this photo, because you do not say, and the jpg file does not have any EXIF data attached. But to include the background in this photo with flash, you need a shutter speed long enough to to fully expose the background while the flash highlights your subjects. On my camera, this is called slow synch. Here's how it works.

I want to get a deep depth of field, because I want the background in focus. At least I'm sensing you wanted to get the blue and gold railing and all that fine detail. But if I use basic flash in program mode, the aperture will be wide open, giving a very shallow depth of field. So, I set Aperture prioraty and slow synch. I set the aperture that will give me the best detail without losing detail to diffraction. That's about f13 on the D200. I then focus on my subject with spot metering (spot or center-weighted required for D200 and iTTL flash). I could set focus using hyper-focal distance to maximize the depth of field usage, but in this case, I was more concerned with getting my subject in critical focus. I then shoot the photo.

So to summarize:
Set aperture priority and slow synch
Set aperture to diffraction limit for your camera
Focus on subject and meter based on requirements of your camera's flash
Take the shot

For the shot I took, it was a good thing I had VR on the lens, since the slow synch at f13 was a 1.6 second exposure. It helped some, but I actually should have put this on a tripod. However, the scene was well lit throughout its range, with good detail both in front of and behind the subjects.

To use hyperfocal distance, I would have to calculate the hyperfocal distance for the lens and place the subject on the plane of focus. The image would then appear in focus from halfway from the camera to the subject, and then all the way to infinity behind the subject. Of course, at VERY wide angles, this is too close for most subjects. But even shooting 24mm on my 18-200, at f11 the hyperfocal distance is 2.55 meters (about 8 feet), so everything would appear in focus from 4 feet to infinity, and my subject is at a very nice distance for portrait shooting. Not that you normally want to use 24mm (36mm equivalent on a full frame camera) as a portrait length.

Debdube
03-24-2006, 07:51 AM
Thank you. Consulting your reply and the camera's manual, it seems that slow synch is used to brighten a dark background... which makes sense, but the background doesn't really look dark until you shoot with the flash. I guess I always have to try a shot first and then calibrate from there, until I get an experience of when slow synch is appropriate.

I use a Panasonic FZ5, and I think it gives aperture ranges of F8-F2.8 (in Aperture Priority at least)? When you say "Set aperture to diffraction limit for your camera", do you mean I should pick the lowest F-stop value (which corresponds to the largest aperture opening), or you mean the exact opposite (choosing the highest F value corresponding with the smallest aperture opening)? Or did I get it completely wrong? Pardon my photographic newbiness ;^_^.

I think I will try a few random shots here in my room after dimming one of the lights or something. It's a different type of lighting from the one used in the graduation hall though that's for sure. But you were right in assuming that I wanted to capture colors like the blue & gold railing. This is just what I meant; I want the picture to show the subjects and show the cheery environment that they were standing in. After all it was a graduation party, not a funeral :P. J/K

EDIT: Here's EXIF for both photos:

No-flash:
EXIF Type EXIF Data
Compression JPEG compression
Make Panasonic
Model DMC-FZ5
Orientation top, left side
X Resolution 72 dots per inch
Y Resolution 72 dots per inch
Resolution Unit Inch
Date/Time 2006:03:06 20:51:21
Thumbnail Offset 6804 bytes
Thumbnail Length 7943 bytes
YCbCr Positioning Datum point
Exposure Time 0.2 sec
F-Number F2.8
Exposure Program Program normal
ISO Speed Ratings 200
Exif Version 2.20
Date/Time Original 2006:03:06 20:51:21
Date/Time Digitized 2006:03:06 20:51:21
Components Configuration YCbCr
Compressed Bits Per Pixel 4 bits/pixel
Exposure Bias Value 0
Max Aperture Value F2.8
Metering Mode Multi-segment
Light Source Unknown
Flash No flash fired, compulsory flash mode
Focal Length 6.0 mm
FlashPix Version 1.00
Color Space sRGB
Exif Image Width 2560 pixels
Exif Image Height 1920 pixels
Sensing Method One-chip color area sensor
File Source Digital Still Camera (DSC)
Scene Type Directly photographed image
Custom Image Processing Normal
Exposure Mode Auto
White Balance Mode Manual
Digital Zoom Ratio Digital zoom not used
Focal Length in 35mm Film 36.0 mm
Scene Capture Type Standard
Gain Control Low gain up
Contrast Normal
Saturation Normal
Sharpness Normal

With flash:
EXIF Type EXIF Data
Compression JPEG compression
Make Panasonic
Model DMC-FZ5
Orientation top, left side
X Resolution 72 dots per inch
Y Resolution 72 dots per inch
Resolution Unit Inch
Date/Time 2006:03:06 20:51:30
Thumbnail Offset 6804 bytes
Thumbnail Length 6732 bytes
YCbCr Positioning Datum point
Exposure Time 1/60 sec
F-Number F2.8
Exposure Program Program normal
ISO Speed Ratings 150
Exif Version 2.20
Date/Time Original 2006:03:06 20:51:30
Date/Time Digitized 2006:03:06 20:51:30
Components Configuration YCbCr
Compressed Bits Per Pixel 4 bits/pixel
Exposure Bias Value 0
Max Aperture Value F2.8
Metering Mode Multi-segment
Light Source Flash
Flash Flash fired, compulsory flash mode
Focal Length 6.0 mm
FlashPix Version 1.00
Color Space sRGB
Exif Image Width 2560 pixels
Exif Image Height 1920 pixels
Sensing Method One-chip color area sensor
File Source Digital Still Camera (DSC)
Scene Type Directly photographed image
Custom Image Processing Normal
Exposure Mode Auto
White Balance Mode Manual
Digital Zoom Ratio Digital zoom not used
Focal Length in 35mm Film 36.0 mm
Scene Capture Type Standard
Gain Control Low gain up
Contrast Normal
Saturation Normal
Sharpness Normal

erichlund
03-24-2006, 10:43 AM
Thank you. Consulting your reply and the camera's manual, it seems that slow synch is used to brighten a dark background... which makes sense, but the background doesn't really look dark until you shoot with the flash. I guess I always have to try a shot first and then calibrate from there, until I get an experience of when slow synch is appropriate.

I use a Panasonic FZ5, and I think it gives aperture ranges of F8-F2.8 (in Aperture Priority at least)? When you say "Set aperture to diffraction limit for your camera", do you mean I should pick the lowest F-stop value (which corresponds to the largest aperture opening), or you mean the exact opposite (choosing the highest F value corresponding with the smallest aperture opening)? Or did I get it completely wrong? Pardon my photographic newbiness ;^_^.

I think I will try a few random shots here in my room after dimming one of the lights or something. It's a different type of lighting from the one used in the graduation hall though that's for sure. But you were right in assuming that I wanted to capture colors like the blue & gold railing. This is just what I meant; I want the picture to show the subjects and show the cheery environment that they were standing in. After all it was a graduation party, not a funeral :P. J/K

EDIT: Here's EXIF for both photos:

No-flash:
EXIF Type EXIF Data
Compression JPEG compression
Make Panasonic
Model DMC-FZ5
Orientation top, left side
X Resolution 72 dots per inch
Y Resolution 72 dots per inch
Resolution Unit Inch
Date/Time 2006:03:06 20:51:21
Thumbnail Offset 6804 bytes
Thumbnail Length 7943 bytes
YCbCr Positioning Datum point
Exposure Time 0.2 sec
F-Number F2.8
Exposure Program Program normal
ISO Speed Ratings 200
Exif Version 2.20
Date/Time Original 2006:03:06 20:51:21
Date/Time Digitized 2006:03:06 20:51:21
Components Configuration YCbCr
Compressed Bits Per Pixel 4 bits/pixel
Exposure Bias Value 0
Max Aperture Value F2.8
Metering Mode Multi-segment
Light Source Unknown
Flash No flash fired, compulsory flash mode
Focal Length 6.0 mm
FlashPix Version 1.00
Color Space sRGB
Exif Image Width 2560 pixels
Exif Image Height 1920 pixels
Sensing Method One-chip color area sensor
File Source Digital Still Camera (DSC)
Scene Type Directly photographed image
Custom Image Processing Normal
Exposure Mode Auto
White Balance Mode Manual
Digital Zoom Ratio Digital zoom not used
Focal Length in 35mm Film 36.0 mm
Scene Capture Type Standard
Gain Control Low gain up
Contrast Normal
Saturation Normal
Sharpness Normal

With flash:
EXIF Type EXIF Data
Compression JPEG compression
Make Panasonic
Model DMC-FZ5
Orientation top, left side
X Resolution 72 dots per inch
Y Resolution 72 dots per inch
Resolution Unit Inch
Date/Time 2006:03:06 20:51:30
Thumbnail Offset 6804 bytes
Thumbnail Length 6732 bytes
YCbCr Positioning Datum point
Exposure Time 1/60 sec
F-Number F2.8
Exposure Program Program normal
ISO Speed Ratings 150
Exif Version 2.20
Date/Time Original 2006:03:06 20:51:30
Date/Time Digitized 2006:03:06 20:51:30
Components Configuration YCbCr
Compressed Bits Per Pixel 4 bits/pixel
Exposure Bias Value 0
Max Aperture Value F2.8
Metering Mode Multi-segment
Light Source Flash
Flash Flash fired, compulsory flash mode
Focal Length 6.0 mm
FlashPix Version 1.00
Color Space sRGB
Exif Image Width 2560 pixels
Exif Image Height 1920 pixels
Sensing Method One-chip color area sensor
File Source Digital Still Camera (DSC)
Scene Type Directly photographed image
Custom Image Processing Normal
Exposure Mode Auto
White Balance Mode Manual
Digital Zoom Ratio Digital zoom not used
Focal Length in 35mm Film 36.0 mm
Scene Capture Type Standard
Gain Control Low gain up
Contrast Normal
Saturation Normal
Sharpness Normal
I have no idea what the diffraction limit is on an all in one like the FZ5. I would hope you could use F8. So meter without flash at f8 to get the overall time for your exposure, then set f8 and the time you metered, but use the flash to fill on your subjects. This is basically manually setting slow synch.

If you do have a slow sync mode, you could try this by setting aperture priority with slow synch, at f8, and let the camera meter the time. In either case, at f8, you may want to have the camera on a tripod, because it will be a long exposure. Make sure you subjects are aware of this. ;)

Debdube
03-24-2006, 11:56 AM
I think I understand what you mean :). Thank you; I shall try that whenever I get the chance, and then I might post back with results. Slow synch seems to be one of the flash settings available and it can be used in Aperture Priority mode.

I do have a tripod, but didn't think it would be necessary since the bright lights were deceiving.

About white balance... is it safe to say that setting WB manually at every new location would always give better results than the automatic WB settings? (unless it was outside in bright sunlight I guess).

propwash
03-24-2006, 08:28 PM
One reason that your non-flash picture is not as sharp as the one with flash is the shutter speed. The picture taken without flash was 1/5 second, and the flash picture was 1/60 second. The 1/5 shutter speed is pretty slow for a hand-held shot. It is almost impossible to keep the camera steady that long without a tripod or some other means of external support. I have pretty steady hands, and the best I can do with my Panasonic (with stabilization set to mode 2) is about 1/4 second when I brace the camera on my knee or something else. If you like the colors of the non-flash picture, try it with shutter priority so you can get a faster shutter speed. Good luck.

erichlund
03-24-2006, 10:12 PM
One reason that your non-flash picture is not as sharp as the one with flash is the shutter speed. The picture taken without flash was 1/5 second, and the flash picture was 1/60 second. The 1/5 shutter speed is pretty slow for a hand-held shot. It is almost impossible to keep the camera steady that long without a tripod or some other means of external support. I have pretty steady hands, and the best I can do with my Panasonic (with stabilization set to mode 2) is about 1/4 second when I brace the camera on my knee or something else. If you like the colors of the non-flash picture, try it with shutter priority so you can get a faster shutter speed. Good luck.
Her lens was already wide open. Without flash, she cannot get a faster shutter speed. Plus, she wanted to capture the detail of the architechture behind her subjects. That means large depth of field, so she needs a small aperture, which means an even slower shutter speed, so a tripod is really her best option.

Debdube
03-25-2006, 12:11 AM
Hmm, but would the picture be better with a faster shutter speed in an indoor lighting environment like the one in question (Sensitivity was at 200 I think, I don't like to to go higher)? You're right about the tripod though. Except that it would have been a hassle to carry it around and then place it in the middle of the hall for quick pictures. So the optimum solution is to find a way to take nice, crisp, and quick photos indoors. I don't know if that's too farfetched with an FZ5 :). If it is I should just keep flailing tripod + camera and knock people around the place :D.

So now I gotta try two things; aperture priority + slow synch, & shutter priority for a faster shutter speed.

P.S: I am a guy :D. I don't know why it was thought otherwise; maybe I should check my previous posts for subliminal messages or something :P.

cdifoto
03-25-2006, 01:52 AM
Hmm, but would the picture be better with a faster shutter speed in an indoor lighting environment like the one in question (Sensitivity was at 200 I think, I don't like to to go higher)? You're right about the tripod though. Except that it would have been a hassle to carry it around and then place it in the middle of the hall for quick pictures. So the optimum solution is to find a way to take nice, crisp, and quick photos indoors. I don't know if that's too farfetched with an FZ5 :). If it is I should just keep flailing tripod + camera and knock people around the place :D.

So now I gotta try two things; aperture priority + slow synch, & shutter priority for a faster shutter speed.

P.S: I am a guy :D. I don't know why it was thought otherwise; maybe I should check my previous posts for subliminal messages or something :P.

Photography in tricky situations always involves compromise of some sort. Do you compromise by lugging a tripod? Do you compromise by spending big bucks on IS? Do you compromise by using flash? Do you compromise by limiting your depth of field because you need a "fast" aperture? Do you compromise by increasing your ISO and therefore introducing more noise than you'd prefer?


As for why you were referred to as female...have you looked at your screen name lately?

Debdube
03-25-2006, 03:29 AM
As for why you were referred to as female...have you looked at your screen name lately?

I never thought my screen name would be interpreted as a female name! Actually when I registered a while ago I just wanted to choose a random nice sounding word. It's not even English actually... but now I guess I see the spot I put myself in. Is there a way to change screen names?

erichlund
03-25-2006, 05:38 PM
I never thought my screen name would be interpreted as a female name! Actually when I registered a while ago I just wanted to choose a random nice sounding word. It's not even English actually... but now I guess I see the spot I put myself in. Is there a way to change screen names?
Sorry about that. I don't know anything about changing screen names.

To answer your other question: In your original photos, for the natural light photo, your exposure was 0.2 seconds at f/2.8. That aperture is as wide as your lens will go, so without using flash, you cannot have a faster exposure under those circumstances without underexposing the photo.

Using flash, you get a very fast shutter speed, but, as you can see, the areas behind the main subjects are not well lit, they remain relatively unexposed.

The slow synch will cause the camera to use both flash and the slower shutter speed. Because of the slower shutter speed you need support, so there is the recommendation for the tripod. I also recommended closing down the aperture so that you get maximum depth of field to show the background detail you want from the photo. This, of course, will require an even slower shutter speed, ensuring that you really do need the tripod.

cdifoto
03-25-2006, 05:59 PM
A wired or wireless remote, or even putting it on timer if possible would also help considering even the movement from touching the camera when firing the shutter could cause shake...even on a tripod.


Personally I just live with darker backgrounds since it's to be expected anyway. Less fuss too! :)

-m i n g
04-06-2006, 12:31 AM
Hey, I'm no pro.. Just know bits and pieces.

Pump up your ISO settings (make your shutter speed faster). You can use ISO400 without flash and it'll take a good picture, but noise appears. Have you tired Night Portrait Mode?

ktixx
04-06-2006, 09:47 AM
This is not to be rude or mean - but I think the reason why everyone (including myself) like the flash shot so much better is because the non flash shot is awful. The shot has blow highlights, is overall washed out and is blurry. The flash shot may be a little harsh and the background may be a little more dark, but the colors are much more vibrant and the image is very clear. Overall the flash image isn't that bad and a few minutes in photoshop could probably make it exactly what you wanted.
The flash shots that you see where the entire shot (background & foreground) has an even exposure is usually done with higher end cameras, with higher end flashes and the flash is usually bounced or diffused in some way by tilting it away from the subject. With a point and shoot flash it is very difficult to acheive something close to this.
As a suggestion for improvement - Try to built your own diffuser (using tissue or some other translucent paper material, meter for the background and turn down your flash power and use it just as a fill flash. This will require higher ISO's so running the image through a noise reducer will help significantly.
Ken

avi777
04-06-2006, 09:10 PM
I like the flash pic too, coz there's more detail of the subjects.

DonSchap
04-06-2006, 10:17 PM
a disaster waiting to happen, w/o your camera on a tripod or just some darn good hands. At 1/30th or longer... you may just be wasting your time. Even IS (Image Stabilization) can only go so far... at 1/5 of second.. it done left town. :rolleyes:

Two things are going on here:

With the flash set to fire, a whole different program is in effect... and it sets the shutter speed to 1/125th automatically and syncs with the flash. The brighter background lighting you witnessed in the earlier photograph was due to light saturation due to the longer exposure time. With the flash setting, that light was shuttered down and effectively not available to the lens. You are seeing a distinct contrasting effect, due to this conflict in light sources. The reflections of the pre-flash on your two subjects was the deciding factors in the amount of flash allowed, not the background. The camera did not even consider it.

The "handshake" effect, which was directly responsible for the fuzzy, blurry subject images in the previous photograph, disappears because the 1/125th shutter speed is simply fast enough to effectively "freeze" it, much like the "stopped" rotor blades of a helicopter with high-speed shutter settings.

Brighting the background could require a number of things...
backing off your subject a few feet, to allow the flash sensor to adjust itself for producing more light due to a more balanced frame... your two subjects and more background.
aiming the camera to the darker area, slightly depressing the shutter release, then realigning to your subject. (Trial and Error with this one, as you often get too much flash on the subject!)
Having a SLAVE flash behind your subjects, which simultaneously illuminates the background when you press the shutter release. This is probably the best, but the more costly solution to your issue.

One more important consideration when composing a photographic image... unless the background contributes to the "story" that the composition is telling, you're better off without it.

(Just wait until you have an undesirable subject's shadow on your background, when you snap a photograph of the subject up against a light-colored wall or drape. You will wish you had that second SLAVE flash, believe me.)

BTW: I like the second shot. Especially since that distracting woman in the background was gone! LOL :rolleyes:

EdBoy
04-07-2006, 04:22 AM
P.S: I am a guy . I don't know why it was thought otherwise; maybe I should check my previous posts for subliminal messages or something :P.

Deb, it's probably nothing to do with your previous posts it's more likely the femininity of your name ducky