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 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.