A Little Light on Your Subject
DO SOME of your photographs give your friends luminous red eyes or make the men appear to be wearing long hair when they are not? Do your outdoor photos disappointingly show hollow, dark eyes and other problems with shadows? Again, has someone in a large hall ever laughed when seeing you at the back of the hall taking a flash photograph of people on the stage? These camera disappointments have one thing in common—a problem involving light on your subject.
If so, you may appreciate some hints about how to overcome them. These tips are not intended for the professional but for those of you who are trying your hand at flash photography.
Those Red Eyes
The annoying red-eye effect (or white-eye if you are using black and white film) is the bright reflection of the flash from the subject’s eyes. This happens when the flash unit is positioned very close to the camera lens and both are pointed at the subject. Similarly, light reflected from a shiny surface on or near the subject may cause a glare, or flare, to show up in the picture.
When taking pictures indoors, why not try tilting your flash unit toward the ceiling if your equipment allows for it? (Illustration A) The reflected light will usually be sufficient for your photograph. Another alternative is to use a cable attachment for the unit, unless you are using a camera that has a built-in flash unit. This will enable you to position the flash away from the camera at any angle that will reduce undesired reflection and shadows. If it is not possible to use either of these methods, then try having your subjects look slightly away from the lens of the camera.
Something else to bear in mind for color photographs: Reflected light will be tinted by the color of the surface from which it is bounced. So make sure that the ceiling, wall, or other surface that you are using as a reflector is white or has a neutral color. You can also further cut down glare by using a lens shade or by covering or masking shiny surfaces where possible.
More About Shadows
When your photograph of Uncle John shows plenty of hair at the back of his head, you are shocked. He has no hair! Actually, you are having a problem with the momentary shadows produced by the flash. Uncle John was too near the background. Next time try moving him forward, away from it. (Illustration B)
You can also reduce such a problem by pointing the flash away from the subject toward a neutrally colored surface. The reflected light will give you the effect of indirect lighting, helping to eliminate unwanted shadows. You may find it interesting to locate dark areas where you want them by holding the flash unit high or low or off to either side. Be creative with your indoor shadows! Now take a look at the outdoor ones.
You have photographed your sister while she was wearing a wide-brimmed hat in bright sunlight. The settings on your camera were accurately adjusted, yet she showed up without a face—too much shadow under the hat. What can you do next time? Use a flash; but reduce its brightness by using a smaller lens aperture or by masking the transparent screen of the flash unit with a white handkerchief. (Illustration C) Remember, too, to guard against red or white eyes as we have already explained. Use of the flash will also eliminate or soften shadows around the eyes and under the nose and chin in photographs taken under the midday sun.
Range of Light
If you do not wish to advertise your inexperience, you will avoid attempting flash photographs of subjects that are too far from you. Every flash unit has limited range, and its light is useless beyond that range. Indeed, it may even obscure your subject by brightening only the foreground within its range. So save your flash for subjects that are near enough. Using a flash in any darkened auditorium is also very inconsiderate of others in the audience.
Finally, since the intensity or brightness of light on the subject decreases greatly with distance, make sure that there is not too much depth in your group pictures. Arrange your groups in only one or two rows. You can compensate for light falloff to some extent by putting those of the group who have darker clothing or skin in front.
Well, now, is flash photography difficult? Not really. And it will be more fun as you use better methods to throw a little light on your subject.
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