Sunday, September 27, 2009

OT: Flooding Caused by Typhoon Ondoy (Ketsana)

I know this is off topic but it's the first time I've taken my camera out to take photos during a typhoon and I wanted to share the photos with you.

We were caught in a flood yesterday here in Manila. Apparently it was the largest single amount of rain in a 24 hour period recorded. A whopping 455mm fell and many part of manila were flooded.

You can find more news about the flood at Google News

Typhoon Ondoy seems to have caught a lot of people off guard. We were actually supposed to go and see someone in an area worst hit by the floods. Fortunately we called ahead and they told us not to come over.

I had my camera with me (as usual!) so instead of going home I decided to drive around and see what was going on.

1. Two guys get of a jeepney trying to get to work


2. The rain has just begun but the water quickly starts to rise on McKinnley Street near EDSA, Makati.


3. Visibility decreases and cars start to struggle on EDSA, Makati,


4. Water surges down the ramp on the 4th floor of the car park in Park Square One, Makati.


5. Trying to keep water outside of Glorietta Mall, Makati. Where the car is driving is normally a walkway.


6. Outside Glorietta Mall, Makati.


7. Water gushes from the drains outside Park Square One, Makati.


8. Man crossing Pasay Road outside Park Square One, Makati


It stopped raining for a while but it's starting again so the problems are going to continue for a while :-(

Thursday, June 18, 2009

It's not the size that matters...Using a compact camera creatively

Learning to love your on camera flash...

One of the main frustrations I have with compact cameras is the on camera flash as it always seems to over power the object in the image, especially on images with a dark background.

Although compact camera blurb generally talks about how great the camera is when working out the perfect exposure for any particular image, it would seem that cameras struggle when flash is involved.

Most compact cameras allow you to alter the exposure of the image and also the exposure of the flash. However they do not make it easy - in fact some of them make it so hard that you would think that manufactures are trying to discourage people from using these features!

As an example of poor automatic flash control, I recently took this picture of my colleague on automatic mode in a restaurant.


Although I had put the flash into Slow sync mode to capture the ambient background lighting, the two white saucers reflected light to the camera causing the main object, my friend, to become underexposed.

The camera was tricked into believing that the whole image was exposed correctly because of the white objects reflecting the light back to the camera. To fix this the easiest thing to do is to remove the white objects or change the camera angle so that the objects are not in the image anymore.


Although the exposure was greatly improved I still felt that my friend was too bright. so I decided to reduce the flash exposure/output by -1 stop (half the amount of light). I then ended up with this image.


The resulting image is that the main object is more balanced with the background.

Although compact cameras don't make it easy to change the flash settings it isn't impossible and with a bit of practice it can be done quite easily. Each camera has different ways of controlling the flash and how much you can control it.

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W170 below only allows the user to increase or decrease the flash output. I'm not sure how much the flash is increased or decreased, but it's better than nothing. It also takes about 6-7 button presses to get to this menu.



The Canon G10 below on the other hand allows much better control of the flash by allowing you to adjust the power by 1/3 stops to a minimum of -2 stops and a maximum of +2 stops. It takes 3 button presses to change the flash output.


The main point of this article is to take control of your point and shoot camera as much as you can with the aim of taking better shots.

I thought about adding this section into my free online course - Using a compact camera creatively...A free online photography course, but decided that I will add in small "additions" like this separately in order to not make the lessons too long.

I've included the last section here just in case you'd like to give it a go and get some feedback about your images using controlled flash.

Get your hands dirty

1. Take a few photos of a person one with the flash set to normal, one with the flash set to output more light and one with the flash set to output less light. See how the main object is affected
2. Take two shots of the same image with the flash set to automatic, one with the object on a black background and one on a white background. See if the background affects the flash of the main object
3. To see the difference in how light is affected by distance from the main object, take three photos of the same person at night time with the flash set to slow synch. Take the first image with the person 1 meter (3ft) away, the second one 2 meters (6 feet) away and the last one 3 meters (9 ft) away. You can choose to change the angle of the lens or keep it the same.

Send the images to emmett.photography@gmail.com with a subject title "control the flash" and a brief description about each image and let me know if and what difficulties you encountered. Give me a few days to get back to you with my feedback.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

It's not the size that matters...Using a compact camera creatively - Part 5

A free online photography course for people wanting to improve their photos
(or "how to keep you friends and family from falling asleep when showing them your holiday photos!")

In the first part of this free online photography course geared towards compact camera users, we covered selective focusing, filling the frame with the subject and getting in closer to isolate or emphasize the main subject.

The second part of the course covered the various techniques that you can use to create lively, dynamic and most importantly interesting compositions.

In the third part of this course we discussed using light more effectively to enhance photos, fake sunsets and techniques for taking low light photos with no flash or tripod.

In the fourth part of this course we discussed using the limited flash with more thought and creativity to create photos with added depth and interest and to move away from using the flash in automatic mode.

Just a quick recap:

  • the main aim of this course is to highlight that you don't need a 'BIG' camera to take good photos
  • the main reason I'm doing this due to the frequency I hear people blame their equipment for the bad photos they took - from experience, though, bad photos are dues to being taken quickly with very little thought and almost no adherence to any excepted standard guidelines for taking good photos.
  • lastly my goal for everyone who participates in this course is that their families and friends which start to accept their invitations again to look at their holiday photos :-)

One thing about the compact camera is that I find it is too easy to take shots without thinking about the image. This is good in certain circumstances, but I think that the ease of use for these kind of cameras is a main, if not the root cause, of bad or average images (snap shots).

It seems that the name “Point and Shoot” reveals the problem behind the mentality of using this kind of camera. The name really should be “Look, Point, Think & Shoot”. This online course aims to help become people who look for and see images and then, before actually taking the picture, think about a few guidelines that they could apply to increase the quality of the image.

I have found that if we take a bit of time and put some thought into taking a shot, it is possible to get some really good shots from these “cheaper” cameras. This is what this free online photography course is all about - learning a few basic guidelines and hints and tips for people who want to take better pictures with their existing camera.

My aim for everyone is to take the tips and learnings over this series of articles and go out and shoot better images which people will proudly hang on their walls - physical or virtual :-)

At the end of each section there is a "go out and get your hands dirty" assignment. As part of this assignment you can email me your images and I'll give you feedback to help you improve. All of this is FREE, no strings attached and I won't sell your email address to anyone - that's a promise.

The topics covered in this free online photography course are:

Guidelines for taking better shots

Ideas for creating better memories

This lesson will focus on trying to get you to think about using the camera to create more interest photos as well as photos that you can tell a story with.

Ideas for creating better memories

One of the reasons family often tremble at the thought of get-togethers to see the holiday photos is because it’s a visual barrage of mediocre images which seem to have been haphazardly taken and put into a randomizer to be spit out in any old order.

For me the true test of success when you review your photos should be related to how many times you mutter that sentences: (1) “Why on earth did I take that?” (2) “What the #%$^$ is that?” and (3)”Huh?”

OK I admit the last one is probably not a sentence, but it’s still a comment often heard when looking at photos.

The ideas below are there to stimulate you into thinking about the photo you are taking and to try and make it more natural to ask a few questions BEFORE you press the shutter button. THINK before you CLICK

Perspective

One of the easiest ways to get people interested in your photos is to change the perspective of the subject in the photo.

The image below is the standard “yawn” image that you often see of a flower or plants. This is usually taken with minimal effort from the photographer who at the most may have to bend slightly to get into position.

Image 1: The ‘yawn” view

The next three images change the angle of view and therefore the perspective of the flower in increasing degrees in relation to the view.

This angled view creates a more interesting image by allowing the view to ‘feel’ the texture of the flower. It’s also a less seen angle that the image above and therefore will be more interesting to view. The photographer probably had to bend down slightly further to take the photo but by much.

Image 2: A better perspective to view texture

The next image was taken in a field in the UK and was particularly interesting, but then I stopped and took some time to look at the detail of the wheat and realized that the blue sky made a good background for the wheat.

This was taken kneeling down and the interest some from the detail in the wheat kernels and the contrast with the blue sky. Added to that, the fact that very few people take the time to get down that low in fields, means that the perspective of the image is engaging to the viewer.

Image 3: Kneeling should become an automatic thought with a camera in your hand.

The final image was taken in my parents garden on a summer’s day and I took a number of ‘yawn’ flower images when I had the idea of taking a photo from the bottom of a flower looking up to the sun – kind of what a worm of lady bug might see.

To ensure that the flower didn’t go too dark because of the sun, I stopped down the exposure and turn of the flash to fill in the flower, giving me the rich blue sky and yellow flower.

I took this picture lying on my back in the garden. It’s not everyone’s idea of fun, but it creates a great perspective which very few people actually get to see (oh yeah, and dirt normally washes off clothes pretty good as well – so no excuses!)

Image 4: Lie down look up – what do you see?

Colours

Photos don’t have to always be saturated with colours. If they were they would start to become offensive to the viewers senses.

That said many photos taken on holiday suffer the opposite problem of being “sensory-less”, with bland colours and very little saturation (probably most of them are taken at midday in the bright sun!).

I always look for colourful things to photograph and also look for overcast skies or covered areas to ensure that the saturated colours really jump out at me.

My daughters have a tendency to dress in very colourful (bright) clothes – which make them easy to spot in crowds. This also makes it easy to create colour sensory overload images when we come across colourful backgrounds!

Image 5: Colour Colour everywhere

One thing about nature is that they, more often than not, have wonderful complimentary colour schemes. The flower below is the same one as the flower above, but this time I focussed on the red and yellow colour schemes and made the image interesting by changing the perspective.

Image 6: Nature’s glory

Lastly I also keep an eye out for colour contrast of colour and grey’s. The contrast makes sure that these always stand out when being viewed.

Image 7: Colour contrast works

Patterns

I also recommend that you keep a look out for patterns around you – they are everywhere and if you put a number of different photos of patterns together they can create a striking impact on viewers.

I saw these oranges in the market and didn’t immediately think about taking a picture as I was busy thinking about what I needed to buy. However, after I had purchased some I then relaxed a it and the pattern jumped out at me.

The strong lines and shaped just keep me staring at it. To create an even more interesting image you could think about changing one of the oranges with an apple or lemon.

Image 8: Patterns can be found everywhere

Abstract

Another technique to use when taking holiday photos is to get in close and take pictures of things which may not be obvious what they are straight away to the viewer. Let them ask the question “What’s that?” (which is definitely different to “Huh”?)

Abstract images taken with compact cameras need to be aesthetically pleasing to work well. Bigger cameras have more control over the depth of focus which can add in another dimension to abstract images, but you will have limited control with compacts.

This image was taken of an old steam engine at a country fare in the UK and it stood out to me for several reasons, (1) the repetitive pattern of the spokes, (2) the colour and (3) the middle of the wheel wasn’t round and create tension with the rest of the image.

Image 9: Pattern, Colour and Tension – good ingredients for interesting images

The next image was a fun one for me due to the name of the pudding “Spotted Dick”. As the name has a double meaning having pots of “Spotted Dick” in an image without any other context will definitely create a lot of interest from viewers.

Just to take the non-UK resident readers out of their misery – Spotted Dick is a very traditional English sponge pudding with raisins inside. You can find out more about this pudding at projectbritain.com

Image 10: Spotted what? Make sure grandma is present when showing these images :-)

This last image was taken in Leiden, The Netherlands. These round plaques were all over the place and I didn’t know what they were for, but the contrast of the round plaque with the straight diagonal lines on the street bricks, I felt, made for an interesting combination.

My brother later explained to me that the plaques in the street are for tourists to allow them to follow the tourist walking routes that Leiden have in abundance.

Image 11: Contrasting shapes create interesting abstract images




Tell a story

Many times when people are travelling they will see an interesting place and take one picture and then quickly move on. Later when looking back at the images they get to this one image and one of two things happen:
  1. They forget what is was that was so interesting, because they didn’t spend that much time there, or
  2. They remember what the place was and tell a whole story about the place with the one image.
I strongly recommend that if you find a place interesting that you take a number (not too many) of images that can help remind you about the place and also help tell the story about the place.

The next set of three images tries to tell a story about a little street in Windsor, England (one of the places that the Queen of England lives). The street is the shortest street in Britain, which I thought was quite interesting – but then that’s just me :-)

The first image is not particularly brilliant, but I tried to capture a number of things, (1) The whole street (the main subject), (2) The name of the street (information about the street) & (3) The sign on the right which reads “The crooked house of Windsor (to get people asking questions).

I also tried to compose using the rule of thirds and leading lines which makes a pretty boring image somewhat less boring – if that is possible!


Image 12:The whole length of Queen Charlotte street

The second image captured the fact that makes the first image more interesting, i.e. that it is the shortest street in Britain. Again it’s not a brilliant picture by itself, but adds to the story as a whole

Image 13: The fact recorded about the street

The last image answers the question from the first photo. It reveals what is the crooked house (a pub) and why is it called the crooked house (because it’s crooked).

I had to stand in the middle of a street to take this photo and as cars were coming and going I didn’t have a lot of time to shoot (please do not do this by yourself and have someone who is very responsible looking out for traffic – I had my wife look out for me). Before walking out into the street I decided I wanted a picture of the whole house to show it is crooked, so by the time I got out into the street I was able to focus and shoot. This means I had done my thinking before doing the “point and shoot” routine.

Image 14: The last picture for the story that answers the questions form the first image.

The three images by themselves are not master pieces, but put them together as a set of three and they become much more interesting.




Capture a flavour

Trying to capture a flavour is similar to capturing a story, but the aim is not to just be factual (the “what”) but rather to try and be able to capture the essence of the place and how it was interesting to you (the “Why”)

In the next series of shots I tried to capture the essence of the Saturday Morning market in the city of Leiden, in the Netherlands. There are a numbers of reasons why my wife and I love this place (1) the location, (2) the variety and (3) the colours. So when we visited last year I wanted to capture these three ingredients.

Wide Shot

My first goal was to capture the location of the market – which is a long some of Leiden’s canals. We got there a bit early so not all the stalls were set up, but the morning light was great.
I took the first image for a few reasons:
  1. to capture the market stalls being set up to show the time of day with nice warm light
  2. to show the market being next to the canals and capture the beautiful reflections of the buildings in the water
  3. to capture some of the surrounding building architecture to reveal some of the historical nature of the town.
Image 15: The wide shot captures part of the flavour of the market

The next set of four images captures the different colours and variety of foods which are being sold in the market.

Image 16: The fruit and vegetable stall

Image 17: The flower stall

Image 18: The cheese stall

Image 19: The fish stall

If we had more time I would have taken some more detailed shots of the stalls and maybe also a few fact shots, e.g. name of streets, name of shops, etc. However we needed to rush off and catch a plane back home to the Philippines. That said I still feel that the "Flavour" of the Market was captured well.

Does it ask a question?

I like people to stay awake when looking at my photos rather than nodding off or coming up with lousy excuses about why they have to leave to go home after spending five minutes of looking at the pictures.

One of the more fun ways to get people interested in your photos is to include the odd photo which makes the viewer turn round and ask a question about it something like "what the ....?". To do this you need to look out for images that will get people asking questions, which are things which are not normally staring at you in the face.

I often find these kind of items are either found by looking up, down, under, around or upside down - basically things that you wouldn't necessarily see in your day-to-day life.

The images themselves still need to be sound photos - do not think that "point and shoot" will work here, or in fact at any time at all. All the guidelines that I have covered in these articles still apply, the only difference being that you probably need to spend more time looking for them.

The first image here stood out for me the first time that I saw it as it was such an unusual image. It is acutally the underneath of a Stingray taken in an aquarium and it was the first time I had ever seen the underneath of one. I had only previously seen them in the wild.

I watched the stingray swim around for a while and was intrigued by it's face and it looks like a very happy person with bucked teeth. After watching it for a while I saw that it was heading towards me so I pressed the camera up against the glass to avoid camera shake and pressed the shutter just as it went by.

Image 20: The underneath of a Stingray

The next image is borderline due to the lack of size comparison. This was taken on a canal trip in Leiden and shows the largest sundial in Europe. The sundial is actually located on the side of a multistory building and is really big - which is what this photo lacks - a size of proportion. With the limited time I had to take this image, I still like it and it still gets people asking "what the....."

Image 21: Europe's largest sundial

The last image here is one of my favourite, because it looks like a professional product shot and often the question changes to "How the.....?". This was taken in a museum with the camera pressed against the glass to avoid camera shake.

Museums and shops often have very good lighting setups, as they are done by professionals - however most of these places are also normally too dark to use without having to steady the camera. If you can look for these opportunities (without breaking any laws) you can take some very professional looking photos.

Image 22: Chinese tea pots - professionally lit, shot with a compact camera

The following shot was taken by a canal of a multi-person water bike, and I liked the contrast between the manual contraption and the modern day car behind it. This would definitely get everyone asking questions!

Image 23: Contrasting transportation vehicles

The following shot was taken outside of Leiden train station and I was overwhelmed by how many bikes I was looking at and to see that they were parked on multistory park levels! I think that anyone outside of Holland would be asking "What the....?"

Image 24: Multistory bike parking

The last image here was taken of my wife's feet, who had just purchased a pair of toe-less socks. Getting in close to her feet and removing any other reference definitely invites the viewer to ask what they are looking at. Had I taken a few steps back the focus on the feet would have been lost.

Image 25: toe-less socks - what next?


Fun shots

Nothing too scientific with this thought. always remember to look for fun opportunities to take some images and please don't take yourself too seriously - life it far too short for that.

I took the first shot whilst waiting for a train at the station. My family were sitting together and it immediately reminded of the say "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil". It took a little bit of convincing of y family to participate but I really like the finished image :-)

Image 26: see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil

The next image is of me when we visited my uncle in th UK. His garden was full of these sticky ball things and my youngest daughter put one in my beard for fun, they loved it and put a few more on and my wife quickly took a picture.

Image 27: Me - needing a shave badly :-)

The last image was taken by my mum, who saw my youngest daughter taking a picture of me with a camera nearly as big as her! Not a technically perfect shot but filled with fun.

Image 28: Smile you're on camera

Capture Reminders

A lastly - don't forget that you can use you camera for taking pictures of information you want to remember. The image below is of a sign near my uncles house which had a bed & breakfast place that my wife and I said we would like to stay in the next time we visited. No-one had a pen and paper to take down the details so we took a picture of it instead.

Image 29: a camera is as good as pen and paper sometimes :-)

Get your hands dirty

As this is the last part of this online course I'm not going to give you any specific tasks. I only urge you to go out and practice Thinking, Pointing, and Shooting to capture some of the topics covered above.

Send the images to emmett.photography@gmail.com with a subject title "Creating Better Memories" and a brief description about each image and let me know if and what difficulties you encountered. Give me a few days to get back to you with my feedback.

I have had lots of fun putting this course together and I hope that your friends will have more fun reviewing your next lot of holiday photos. Good Luck :-)

Monday, April 13, 2009

First Video with Canon 5D Mark II

Just wanted to post the first video I took with my new Canon 5D Mark II. The low light handling and Hi-Def quality are amazing.



You can see the full Hi-Def versions here

Sunday, April 12, 2009

It's not the size that matters...Using a compact camera creatively - Part 4: Flash

A free online photography course for people wanting to improve their photos
(or "how to keep you friends and family from falling asleep when showing them your holiday photos!")

In the first part of this free online photography course geared towards compact camera users, we covered selective focusing, filling the frame with the subject and getting in closer to isolate or emphasize the main subject.

The second part of the course covered the various techniques that you can use to create lively, dynamic and most importantly interesting compositions.

In the third part of this course we discussed using light more effectively to enhance photos, fake sunsets and techniques for taking low light photos with no flash or tripod.

Just a quick recap:

  • the main aim of this course is to highlight that you don't need a 'BIG' camera to take good photos
  • the main reason I'm doing this due to the frequency I hear people blame their equipment for the bad photos they took - from experience, though, bad photos are dues to being taken quickly with very little thought and almost no adherence to any excepted standard guidelines for taking good photos.
  • lastly my goal for everyone who participates in this course is that their families and friends which start to accept their invitations again to look at their holiday photos :-)

One thing about the compact camera is that I find it is too easy to take shots without thinking about the image. This is good in certain circumstances, but I think that the ease of use for these kind of cameras is a main, if not the root cause, of bad or average images (snap shots).

It seems that the name “Point and Shoot” reveals the problem behind the mentality of using this kind of camera. The name really should be “Look, Point, Think & Shoot”. This online course aims to help become people who look for and see images and then, before actually taking the picture, think about a few guidelines that they could apply to increase the quality of the image.

I have found that if we take a bit of time and put some thought into taking a shot, it is possible to get some really good shots from these “cheaper” cameras. This is what this free online photography course is all about - learning a few basic guidelines and hints and tips for people who want to take better pictures with their existing camera.

My aim for everyone is to take the tips and learnings over this series of articles and go out and shoot better images which people will proudly hang on their walls - physical or virtual :-)

At the end of each section there is a "go out and get your hands dirty" assignment. As part of this assignment you can email me your images and I'll give you feedback to help you improve. All of this is FREE, no strings attached and I won't sell your email address to anyone - that's a promise.

The topics covered in this free online photography course are:

Guidelines for taking better shots

Ideas for creating better memories

This lesson will focus on using flash effectively:
  • Using Fill-in Flash
  • Cross lighting with compact!

Guidelines for taking better shots

Using Flash Effectively

This section will not cover using external flashes as most point and shoots do not have this capability. Good Sources of external flash information are:
If there was one universal truth about compact cameras, it’s that their owners take notoriously bad flash photos. People in photos taken with flash are often too bright, making the subjects in the photo look sickly white and as if they have just suffered a severe electric shot.

Other problems that occur when using flash on compact are that pictures of people look very flat and boring and often people have the typical red eye effect. In fact this happens so often that almost all major photo editing software have a special feature to remove red-eye!

Why are flash photos normally so bad? Is there anything that we can do to avoid some of the normal pitfalls?

I believe that there is something that we can do to improve our photos which use flash and that the above problems and caused by three main reasons:

1. Point & Shoot thinking
Have you ever why photos in the instruction manuals, which come with the camera, have great looking photos which have been taken with the flash? Most of the photos I have been shown with a compact camera using a flash never look like the photos in the manuals! The underlying reason behind this is because the people creating the manuals thought about the picture that they were about to take and did not randomly point the camera in a direction with the flash set to automatic.
The whole idea behind this series of lessons is that most compact camera users use their cameras in “Point and Shoot” mode – i.e. without thinking. As I have stressed throughout the lessons here, pointing and shooting with these cameras is the root cause of nearly every single bad photo.

Using a flash on a compact camera in this mindless “point and shoot” mode, exacerbates the problem of bad photography. Not only is the photographer taking a picture without thinking, but using a flash without thinking only compounds the number of things that can go wrong.
2. Small flash on camera
Technically the three reasons why these problems occur are (1) placement of the flash, (2) small size of the flash, (3) lack of output power of the flash.

The placement of the flash is very close to the lens of the camera, which is the main cause of flat images and contributes to the problem of red-eye. Having the main light source of a photo from a position very close to the lens causes the image to look flat due to a lack of shadows in the picture. Shadows create form and shape, without them images with look flat.

Red-eye is caused by the light bouncing off the back of the eyeball and shining back into the camera. Flashes are normally used when the surrounding light is darker than normal. The darker conditions causes the retina of the eye to get wider which allows more light to bounce back into the lens.

The best way to avoid this for bigger cameras is to move the flash away from the lens so that the angle of the flash doesn’t cause the light to bounce back from the back of the eye to the lens.

With compact cameras moving the flash of camera isn’t possible as the flash is built into the body of the camera. So the other method to reduce red-eye to shine a bright light into the eye causing the retina narrow before taking the picture. This is exactly what cameras do when you use red-eye reduction method – using a torch light also works (but is as equally annoying to the subject).

The small size of the flash means that the light is very hard which causes harsh shadows. This is one of the few things which we can’t change about the flash. There are products out there which can help diffuse the light but these reduce the power of the flash which effects the last issue - being the lack of output power.

3. Lack of balancing flash with ambient
This problem relates to the two item mentioned above. Most compact camera users don’t think about the shot and have the flash set to automatic mode which is far from perfect.

Because the flash is small and lacks power using it as the main source of light will always make the background of the photo dark and as a consequence also makes the subject look too bright.

Using the flash as the main light source also means that the light will be hard and flat which makes for boring (read “bad”) images

Balancing flash with ambient light gives you two advantages (1) it gives you two light sources to work with to create depth and life and (2) it creates a much more balanced and pleasant image to look at.

The one camera accessory that you will need to balance the flash with ambient light is a tripod (but not always).
The main point of these lessons is to take control of your camera and make it work for you rather that letting it control everything. This is the same for the flash. By taking control of the flash and learning how manually make adjustments to the flash, you will greatly improve your images and as a consequence hear less snoring during the holiday photo show and tells J

To start with here are a few guidelines to remember about using the flash:
  • On camera flash by itself will make pictures look flat and boring – only use it as a single source of light as a last resort
  • Learn how to adjust the flash output – it’s much easier than you think
  • Cross lighting with available light creates added depth and interest
  • Low ambient light with flash can create interesting images – if balanced properly
  • Fill-in flash can help add more punch to a photo – but it has it’s limitations
Below are a few photos to help illustrate some ideas about what you should be thinking about when taking a photo with a compact camera using a flash.

  • Using Fill-in Flash
The first two images below were taken of a friend of mine on a mid-afternoon summer’s day in Brighton, England. I wanted to take a “fashion model” like photo but without the flash the image would have been to dark.

The first shot I took reminded me that the power of the flash in compact cameras is limited. As I also use a DSLR with external flashes, I am used to having more power, which is why I went back as far as I did.
Image 1: Fill-in flash on compact cameras have their limitations. You can’t get too far away.

I then decided to move closed to my friend and also have him look into the sun, rather than have the sun in the background. To make sure I captured the deep blue background I dropped the exposure of the image by 1.5 stops (see lesson 3 – faking sunsets) and adjusted the power of my flash output to fill-in correctly.
Image 2: A balanced “fashion style” shot taken with a compact camera using manual adjustments to the output power of the flash to fill-in accordingly.

The next image of my youngest daughter was also taken in Brighton, England, at roughly the same time as the above two images. I used the flash to fill-in the face while under exposing the background to capture the texture of the pebbles.

The sun was actually behind me when taking this photo, but I wanted to capture the colour of the pebbles and also correctly expose my daughters face. By under exposing the image for the pebbles (lit by the sun) and using the flash to expose my daughters face the picture ends up being nicely balanced for both fore and background.
Image 3: Notice the two lights in the reflection of the sunglasses. The one on the left is the flash and the one on the right is the sun.

The next image below was taken on a late afternoon in the middle of the city of Leiden in the Netherlands. The shadows of the surrounding buildings meant that without a flash either the shy would have been blown out or my family would have been too dark.

By adjusting the exposure by -1 stop and using a fill-in flash the over all image become much more balanced and richer in colour.
Image 4: thinking about fill in flash can make a big difference to the end result

The final photograph below is by no means a master piece, but was taken as a memory of a good time, drinking coffee outside in the streets of Leiden watching the world go by as the sun set.

As the white cup is so large in the image the exposure had to be adjusted slightly and the flash turned nearly all the way down. You can just about see the flash light reflected in the cup and handle.

Image 5: Even memory shots can be made better by putting a bit of thought into it

  • Cross lighting with compact!
Cross lighting is using two or more lights which are set across from each other to give more depth to an image. As the flash on compact can only come from one direction, I include lighting coming from any other direction other than that of the flash as cross lighting.

In this first image I have used the sun as a highlight to the contour of the subject’s face and used the flash as the main light of the subject. To retain the blue sky I stopped down the exposure and then adjusted the flash to properly expose the subject.
Image 6: cross lighting on the contour of the face adds depth to the subject

In the next two images I used the sun as a hair light by putting the sun directly behind the subjects and then lighting their faces with the flash.

In the first image, the sun is too close to the girls head on the right causing a bright light (halo) to appear. I should have moved or asked the subject to move to batter position the sun behind the head.
Image 7: wrongly positioned sun causes a bright spot above the head

In the second image the sun is positioned behind the head of the girl on the left creating a nice rim light and a hair light for the subject on the left.
Image 8: correctly positioned sun

The last image was made to fake a sunset. Again I stopped down the exposure by -2 stops and used the flash to light the subjects. Unfortunately the flash was not bright enough and I had to run to catch the bus to go home :-)

Image 8: manual adjusting the exposure and using the flash to expose the subjects is an easy way to create a fake sunset

One Thing: The main problem with cross lighting is that the flash is generally not strong enough when used directly opposite the sun. I would have tried to move in closer to the subjects to make their faces lighter.

In summary light is the single most important component for making photographs and by taking control of the light you can produce richer and more exciting photographs. By using a flash creatively and mixed with a bit of thought you can easily turn flash horror pictures into works of art.

Get your hands dirty
1. To understand fill-in light take a set of three pictures:
  • One picture exposed correctly for a bright background and a subject in the shadows with no flash
  • One picture exposed correctly for the subject with a bright background
  • One picture exposed correctly for a bright background and the subject lit with a flash.
2. Shoot a subject exposed so that the sun side lights the subject as a highlight and adjust the flash to make it the main light source without over powering the image

3. Shoot a subject wearing a hat with a brim at noon time and use the flash to fill in the shadows on the face

4. Put the camera on a tripod and take a picture indoors at night using the lights of the house to light the room and use the flash to light the subject by adjusting the power appropriately.

Send the images to emmett.photography@gmail.com with a subject title "Flash Light" and a brief description about each image and let me know if and what difficulties you encountered. Give me a few days to get back to you with my feedback.

In the final part of this free online photography course we will be looking at some creative techniques and ideas for making holiday pictures more interesting.