When to use Flash during Photography?

flash photography
Photography is all about light. If there's no light, there's no photograph. Ambient light can only help so much, and when there's not enough of it, there's flash to help you. But more often than not, the choice of using flash comes down to a personal preference. Some people may like the effect a flash produces whereas others may not. It depends on the style or the look the photographer is after and using flash may actually help him in achieving it. Mastering the use of flash in photography requires some practice, and it comes with its own set of difficulties. I must add here that I will be explaining the article mostly in terms of flash use, though DSLR camera although compact digital camera also follow most of the principles. One can use either the built-in flash or use a mount flash to take pictures in low light environment.

1. Controlling the light More than reacting to the available light, flash allows you to control it in the way you want to. One can either compromise with whatever ambient light is available or be creative in using flash to create the photograph you want. Shooting with a flash changes the color temperature, and the detail in highlight and shadows. Therefore, it is crucial to decide when to use flash because the two photographs- one with flash and the other without flash would be totally different. Capturing a photograph using the ambient light creates a certain mood that a flash will never be able to recreate.

2. Portrait photography A flash can totally change the mood of a photograph. In studio environment, while photographing portraits, there are two main methods to photograph. One is to use the studio lights to create strong shadows and highlights, with a good control over the highlights and skin tones. This way the photograph produced is soft, and has a dramatic contrast. The other way is to use a flash. This creates smooth and even skin tones which would produce a completely different photograph of the same subject in the same studio. Only light would be the difference in both the images.

3. Shiny surfaces When there are surfaces like glass or plastic in the photograph, using a flash creates shiny highlights. In such situations, flash ruins the shot. Sticking to the available ambient light produces much better results. Using a flash produces images that are more polarized, have relatively darker tones and lose some detail. When in doubt whether to use flash or not, it is best to shoot a photograph both with flash and without flash, if the situation allows it, to see for yourself and make a better choice.

4. Fill in flash The use of flash is not limited to low light situations. It can even be used in broad daylight, even while the Sun is illuminating the shot. In these cases, it is used as a fill-in light, and can vastly improve portrait photographs taken outdoors. To do this, meter the scene with just the ambient light (if possible, meter the background), and then manually pop the flash out and shoot the portrait. While it may take a little experience to get the best shots consistently using fill-in flash, it is worth the practice and the time.

There are some points to keep in mind and watch out for while using flash.

Flash creates strong highlights and can white out some areas of an image
Using flash creates a color shift in the image when compared to that photographed with ambient light
Flash produces the dreaded red-eye
Flash produces unwanted shadows
Flash can flatten values, and even out skin tones

To sum it up, apart from some situations where you must use flash to get a properly exposed photograph, there are times when you can choose between using a flash or not. It all comes down to your personal preference, and while creatively using flash can produce a wonderful image, it can also ruin the shot.

Written by : Ritesh Saini, IIT Mumbai (India)

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Edited by: Rajesh Bihani ( Find me on Google+ )

Disclaimer: The suggestions in the article(wherever applicable) are for informational purposes only. They are not intended as medical or any other type of advice