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Chapter 4. How to Use Your Flash > Fill in the Blanks

Fill in the Blanks

Now that we've covered the idea of turning off the flash to preserve a photographic mood, let's talk a bit about turning on the flash to enhance an otherwise weak photograph.

When we were talking about astrophysics to understand lighting, I mentioned that the light from the sun looks better at some times than at others. There are some situations where there is plenty of available light, but the quality of the light is just terrible.

Take the picture shown in Figure 4.5, for example, and see if you can tell what's wrong. It's pretty clear that the subject looks just dreadful with shadows under his eyes and across his face. There's lots of light in the scene—it's just all in the wrong places. That's because a camera can't tell if someone looks good or bad in a photograph; it can only tell if the picture is properly exposed. Even though there are shadows on the face, the overall picture looks just fine to the light meter.

Figure 4.5. Without using a flash, this man's face becomes buried in shadows.

This is when it's a good idea to turn on the flash. Even though it's less powerful than the sun, using your flash in combination with ambient light helps to illuminate problem shadow areas and make for a great picture (Figure 4.6).

Figure 4.6. But simply turn on the flash and voilà! You get a much better photo.

Some cameras have a Fill-Flash mode or a Flash-Exposure mode that allows you to set the output of the flash to less than full power, which really helps to make a picture pop without overpowering the soft light from the sun.


Cameras these days use sophisticated light meters that look at a scene and figure out the proper exposure. These meters usually pay more attention to the exposure right in the middle of the frame, but they also look at all the other segments of the frame as well.

If your subject is off-center, though, the camera will assume that whatever is in the middle is the most important thing to capture. To get better exposure on your subject without using your flash, make sure it is centered in your viewfinder as you partially depress the shutter release button. While continuing to hold the shutter release button, move the camera to set up the composition you like. This will take a light meter reading with the priority on your subject.

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