Rediscovering the Onboard Flash

 

Rediscover the on-camera flash with Ketan Kundargi as he unveils some of the lesser known features of this little superhero.

The pop up flash is ideal for capturing sharp, well illuminated images of constantly moving macro subjects.

The pop up flash is ideal for capturing sharp, well illuminated images of constantly moving macro subjects.

Searching for an artificial light source to take your photography a notch higher? Then look no further as you already have one of the most useful options at your disposal— the onboard flash. This little gadget offers everything you will need and best of all, you don’t have to pay for new equipment.

1 That You Can Get a Perfect Catchlight
A catchlight is one of the most common portraiture techniques. It is used to add dimension to the subject’s eyes and make the person look more lively. But what if it is impossible to get catchlights with your current setup? In such cases, the onboard flash comes to the rescue. Even if your subject is at a distance, the light from the flash is an easy way to create that spark in their eyes. This technique is so effective that even wildlife photographers use it when making portraits of birds and animals.

If your compact camera does not let you control flash settings, the Night Portrait mode is the best go-to mode to avoid a flat, blown out image. Photograph/K Madhavan Pillai

If your compact camera does not let you control flash settings, the Night Portrait mode is the best go-to mode to avoid a flat, blown out image. Photograph/K Madhavan Pillai

2 Work Wonders in Daylight Too!
When the sun is shining, no one thinks of popping up the flash to make pictures. However, if you ever do so, you will be surprised at how useful this can be when the subject is backlit. Also, while making portraits, fill flash helps eliminate unwanted shadows and stark contrast.

3 Can Be Balanced with Ambient Light
Firing the flash does not mean that you have to end up with pictures that lack the flavour of ambient light. By using Slow Sync flash you can give the camera enough time to record ambient light. This makes the image look more natural and camouflage the obvious presence of the flash.

Using Slow Sync flash has helped photograph enough ambient light while freezing the action perfectly well, at the same time. Photograph/ Raj Lalwani

Using Slow Sync flash has helped photograph enough ambient light while freezing the action perfectly well, at the same time. Photograph/ Raj Lalwani

4 Change the Colour of White Light
The white light of the flash can be a big distraction when shooting in pleasing ambient light. The solution? Carry multiple small pieces of coloured gelatin paper to adjust the temperature of the flash to your liking. Alternatively, you can also use any nearby object with a coloured translucent surface as an effective filter.

5 You Can Diffuse it or Direct it
People often dismiss the onboard flash because they believe that it cannot be customised to their choice of settings. But the fact is, using a set of DIY home accessories, the flash can do everything that an inexpensive flashgun can do. A simple tracing paper works as a great softbox while a cigarette box can be Raj Lalwani customised to work as a snoot to bounce the flash off the ceiling.

6 You Can Control the Power
For every exposure with the flash switched on, the camera takes the help of a pre-flash burst to meter the power required for ideal lighting. The Flash Exposure Compensation function can increase or decrease the intensity of the flash from the metered value. However, despite being one of the most useful features, it is rarely used. You can also set the camera to automatically bracket your shots with different flash intensities while the shutterspeed, aperture and ISO remain the same.

7 Your Flash Has a Limited Range
While you can use optical zoom to get closer to the subject without any loss of quality, the same does not apply to the flash. At a fixed ISO, there is only a limited distance upto which the flash will be effective. If you want to increase the reach of the flash, do not hesitate to boost your ISO by a stop or two to make up for the loss in power. With every incremental stop, the flash range increases by about 30%.

8 Two Flash Opportunities
With moving subjects, motion trails can be captured at shutterspeeds slower than 1/60sec, while the flash can freeze the action at the same time. If you set the camera to trigger the flash just as the shutter curtain opens (first curtain sync), the motion trail will occur before the subject. On the other hand, rear curtain sync will ensure that motion trails form behind the subject.

With focus set to infinity, the flash can help create beautiful bokeh of raindrops or snow falling in front of the lens. Photograph/ Raj Lalwani

With focus set to infinity, the flash can help create beautiful bokeh of raindrops or snow falling in front of the lens. Photograph/ Raj Lalwani

9 Faster than the Fastest Shutterspeed
Whether you are using a simple compact camera or a DSLR, your flash is often faster than the fastest shutterspeed you can use. A typical flash duration lasts for 1/1000sec. This is a huge advantage when photographing sports or capturing action shots where one wants to freeze the subject at the decesive moment. If you practice enough to get your timing right, you will be able to get stunning action in the microsecond duration of the flash.

Flash compensation has helped ensure just the right amount of light falls on the background while selectively blowing out the foreground. Photograph/Raj Lalwani

Flash compensation has helped ensure just the right amount of light falls on the background while selectively blowing out the foreground. Photograph/Raj Lalwani

10 Helps Single Out the Subject
Flash can be a great tool to selectively add or subtract subjects in your frame. Well, not literally. For example, you can choose whether you want the entire crowd or a single person in the foreground to be perfectly exposed. By adjusting the power and mode of your flash to expose only one subject accurately, you can make a cluttered background seem less distracting. At the same time, you can bounce the flash off the ceiling or an adjacent wall to light up a vast area and get everything properly lit.

The bright light of the flash helps highlight fine details and enhance shapes and lines. Photograph/ Raj Lalwani

The bright light of the flash helps highlight fine details and enhance shapes and lines. Photograph/ Raj Lalwani

Things to Remember
If you are ever in a rush to make a photograph, the onboard flash can be of a great help. You do not have to worry so much about shutterspeed or aperture settings to ensure that you get a properly exposed image. A fast recycle speed ensures that it even beats a flashgun capturing the moment.

Tags: camera flash, DSLR, filling shadows, Flash photography, Ketan Kundagri, shooting in low light, Shooting Technique