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Chapter 4. How to Use Your Flash > You Light Up My Life (Because Everything Wri...

You Light Up My Life (Because Everything Written About Flash Needs to Use That Pun)

Modern photographers have a lot to be thankful for (digital cameras, nifty color printers, tack-sharp lenses, and this book), but one of the most-often-taken-for-granted wonders is a camera's flash. The name comes, of course, from the burst of light needed to illuminate a scene, and from the fact that the original flashes were simply trays full of a combustible powder. A photographer would open the camera's shutter, light the powder, wait for the flash, and then close the shutter.

Nowadays a camera's flash is an electronically charged little powerhouse, turning electricity from the camera's battery into a light source that can bring a dark scene to life. Even the smallest point-and-shoot camera provides a flash that outclasses the burst of flame that photographers once used.

While the technology used to make a modern flash (also called strobe due to the quick pulsing nature of some units) has come a long way, most cameras aren't too smart about deploying it. Cameras will fire a flash anytime available light gets a bit low. As a result some photos are terribly over-lit by a flash, while some pictures are darker than tar on a hot road in July.

TIP

Available light, sometimes also called ambient light, is a term used to describe the amount of light falling on a scene without its being lit up. There is more available light outside at high noon than at dusk, for example. A famous studio photographer once told a crowd at a conference, “I only believe in shooting with available light.” Everyone in the audience gasped. He paused and then said, “By which I mean, any darn light that's available.”


Another problem with strobes is that the light quality that comes from them is often harsh and glaring. If your photographs look more like police lineups than portraits, you might be suffering from the effects of the camera's flash. And, of course, there's the flash “biggie”—red-eye.

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