13 Nov. 2010

Lesson 7 - Let there be Night

I recall at the beginning of these sessions, that Zahra (teacher) had told us about the evils of using the in-built flash. It is designed for the novice, and is the brightest of all known lights. It strips your exposure bare, washes out the colour, and gives anything with eyes that 'rabbit trapped in headlights' expression. Not to mention the fact that on my lily skin it overexposes to the point that the sensor on the camera recognizes my skin as dead pixels (ie. no colour at all). We had been told to use low shutter speeds and wide aperture to compensate for darkness, and not to forget that we could also use higher ISO (although I find that anything over 400 makes my exposures unacceptably grainy. I have been told that this can be artistically pleasing, but I don't think I have the knack yet).

However today, Zahra ran us through the functionality of the flash, JUST in case we were caught in the dark with no tripod.

There are ways we can adjust the flash to help us create a more natural image. Firstly, we can look at the timing of the flash. In a canon, this is called first and second curtain. First curtain flash fires before the exposure is taken. Second curtain flashes just before the exposure is finished. This has an effect on the brightness of the background - if you want anything beyond about 3 meters, best to use second curtain. (on other cameras this may be called rear curtain sync, and you might also find an option for slow sync).

Then we can adjust the power. We don't have to blast a party with nuclear light (sure to label you as the fun police. Ironic - trying to capture peoples' fun whilst simultaneously not having fun and destroying theirs). If you use a wide aperture and a medium-low shutter speed in combination with a low level flash, (particularly second curtain), this can make for as close to natural finish as you are going to get. Don't forget to set the white balance to "flash".

Flash is not always about night. Sometimes you may find yourself in a situation where the foreground is dark, and the background us bright to a point that it leaves your foreground in silhouette. The human eye can capture detail in the shadows in these situations, but the camera needs a little help. Before I learnt anything about photography, I recall sitting in Saint Marks Square (sipping a $15 chinotto) and once the kids decided to stop trying to contract god knows what disease from the pigeons, one son was still for long enough to take this snap. The sun was blaring into the piazza and reflecting off all the marble columns and bouncing onto everything it seemed -  except my son - and there was NO way I was leaving my vestige of shade. I had paid handsomely for that, and was going to sit there as long as possible. The first attempt was so dull in the foreground that I tried it a second time with a flash. Clever, aren't I?

trying my hand at bulb photography
You may notice that there are no night photos here taken with a flash. That is because I have realised something; if an image has not enough light to capture without flash, then it is not an image. One would be capturing the beauty of the subject, not the beauty of the situation. And once you use the flash, you alter the appearance of that situation to a point that it becomes entirely different. So use the flash when you want to remember something, not because you want to take a good photo, and remember that what you see later in that photograph may not be as beautiful as you KNOW it is. Photography philosophy.

If you like these ramblings but are not interested in photography, check out my other blog: