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The best tip for using your cameras built in flash

Don't. If you can help it.

There are two times when using your built in flash is ‘ok’ almost.
Firstly, if you are shooting and it is just too dark to get a decent shot and you don't have any other means of light source available, like an off camera flash unit, or perhaps a sun, in your back pocket.
Or secondly, if you are shooting against the sun, as in, the sun is right behind your subject and you want a little fill light (which is a tip for beginners, using a digi cam etc, sun making your subject turn ito a silhouette, turn your flash on.)
These are probably the ONLY two situations that I would recommend using your built in flash for, if you can think of any others, please, drop me a comment. If you are using your built in flash though, a nice little trick I learned early on in my photo life and a really nice tip for the absolute beginner who doesn't have all the fancy fandangled flash units etc. is a great piece of photography equipment that will cost you about 20p. A pack of Rizla, kept in your camera case, then when you're out at a party taking lovely pictures of everyone, be sure to stick one above your flash and let it hang down covering it, the best light diffuser for built in flash 20p can buy.

Now, the reason we dont like to use built in flash (simplified and understandable), when we see a photo that we consider to look aesthetically pleasing, it will usually look good because it is how we would imagine it to look if we we're there and how our eyes are used to seeing things. We are mainly used to seeing things lit by either, natural ambient light, or more importantly, sunlight. The difference between these kinds of light, is that ambient light is a diffused light (bounced around everywhere and is generally all around us) and the sunlight comes from the... sun, which is up in the sky. So imagine where the light is coming from, ideally the sun, should you choose to be your light source, would be at about your 7/8 o'clock and in the sky, in relation to your subject creating a natural ‘how you're used to seeing it’ feel to your shot, or ambient light, that is just everywhere giving a soft light and creating barely any shadows. Now, compare them to where the flash unit is on your camera, about an inch away from your lens. So unless you walk around with a miners torch attached to your forhead costantly, it will be rare (other than in photographs) that you see things, or people, lit the way that your built in flash unit will light them. That is more or less it, when you can turn off your flash, turn it off!!! bump up your ISO a little, a bit of noise is much nicer than fake lighting (for info on ISO, click here...). BUT REMEBER, if you do need your flash, like at a party, have a pack of Rizla with you and stick one over your flash! (you may need a little tape too as I hear that they do fall off sometimes).

Here are some examples to show what I mean...

Below, as you can see, my baby boy Louis has a frog on his head, but more importantly, it is lit really nicely, and naturally, the light source is the patio doors he is sat next to, so as you can imagine, a huge 6'x4' plane of light, means that there is a much bigger area of light source than a half inch square flash which if you look at the shadows on his face they are soft and even...
A photograph example of soft shadows created by a natural and larger light source
Look at the catch lights in his eyes, they are off centre at like 2 o'clock, another thing that makes for natural looking lighting, with flash, you will find that the catch light is in the middle of the eye, which also lights the back of the eye causing ‘red eye’

Below, is me, the image was shot with a built in flash, removing all natural looking shadows and creating a very ‘flat’ look, placing hard shadows directly behind everything, as I have highlighted. You can also just see the catchlights right in the middle of my eyes.
An example of bad lighting with a built in flash being used.
If you do need to use your flash though, just remember what I said about the Rizla (it basically diffuses the light giving softer shadows), buy a pack and a small roll of tape, and keep them in your camera case, next time you shoot at night or at a party, give it a whirl, tell me what you think!

I hope you found this an interesting little read, and please, drop me a comment, I love to hear your opinions.


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