More Insider Secrets
Built-in camera flashes are convenient, but they can produce deadly results--from red-eye to a nuclear-looking, unnatural glow--when used to take pictures of people in low-light situations, such as evening parties. The easiest way to low-light shooting success is to get an external flash, but that's not always practical. So we'll explore some of the common settings on digicams, then talk about advanced techniques with an external flash.
Flash exposure compensation
- Red-eye reduction mode
Avoid using this setting. In theory, using red-eye reduction mode makes sense: shine a bright light in the subject's eyes before exposure to constrict the iris, thereby reducing the chance of reflected red-eye. But it doesn't work out that way. Flashes are annoying anyway, and torturing your subject with additional flash before taking the shot tends to kill spontaneity. Plus, even after you do that, you'll often still get red-eye. It's just not worth it.
- Nighttime flash mode
Use this setting for artistic shots. The thinking here is that the camera slows down the shutter speed, allowing you to capture background scenery beyond the flash range, yet the flash still goes off, illuminating subjects within 10 feet. It usually works quite well, but things get crazy if you don't hold the camera really steady or if there's a lot of movement in the scene. So you'll get some absolutely great shots with artistic flair, and you'll get some failures. But it's definitely worth experimenting with. This control is also referred to as slow synchro flash mode.
Hold the camera still, or you'll get streaks and crazy light shows. Of course, maybe you want that.
Use this setting when the flash is too hot--meaning, your subjects are consistently overexposed (too bright). You can usually find this setting in the menu of options, and it allows you to adjust the intensity of the flash. I recommend you start with a setting of -1 and go from there.
Increase ISO speed
You can use this setting, but remember to return to the default when you're done. By increasing your ISO speed from 100 to 200, 400, or more, you're essentially increasing the sensitivity of your image sensor. The results usually include more background information (so that you don't end up with a pitch-black backdrop) and an extended flash range (from 8 feet to 15 feet or more). Keep in mind that you will get a little more image noise in the higher ISO settings. This isn't much of an issue for 4x6 prints, but it might be noticeable in enlargements, especially in the shadow areas. Also, remember to reset your ISO back to 100 at the end of the party.
If you're lucky enough to have this setting, try it. This is one of my favorite tricks. Essentially, it allows you to set any shutter speed you want, and the camera then adjusts the aperture and the flash output to match. The default shutter speed in flash mode for most cameras is 1/60 second. If you switch to shutter-priority mode, you can slow down the shutter speed to 1/30 or 1/15 second, and you'll notice a big difference in your shots. Those speeds are long enough to capture much more background information--such as twinkling lights, candles, and such--but not so slow that you get excessive blurring and camera shake. If you combine this technique with increasing your ISO to 200, you'll get some great results. This is a winner for party pictures. Advanced techniques
For cameras with hotshoes that accept dedicated external flashes, more options are available. The two most important ones are bounce flash and flash on a bracket.
- Bounce flash
If you're good at playing billiards, you'll understand how to use bounce flash. You'll need an external flash with a head that rotates up and down. Instead of pointing the flash directly at the subject, you point it upward and bounce light off the ceiling so that it rains downward, more like natural sunlight. The light is diffused (softer) and renders much more pleasing skin tones, without the ugly hot spots produced by direct flash.
- Flash on a bracket
This trick has been used by wedding photographers for years. You'll need an external flash, a dedicated flash extension cord, and a bracket that holds both the camera and the flash. The thinking here is that you raise the flash above the camera by 6 to 8 inches. By doing so, you completely eliminate red-eye, and you move the shadows produced by flash-illuminated subjects downward and out of the frame. The setup is bulkier than carrying around a pocket digicam, but the results are consistent and professional-looking.
Unless you really have a lot of time on your hands, I doubt you want to go through the massive folder that contains your European vacation photos and rename them Europe_1.jpg, Europe_2.jpg, and so on down the line. If you're running Windows XP on your computer, you don't have to do this. Simply apply this hack to quickly apply a meaningful label to every picture in the folder.
- First, open the folder and select View > Thumbnails.
- Click the last picture in the folder you want to rename, hold down the Shift key, and click the first picture; this will select them all.
- Right-click the first photo, and select Rename from the drop-down menu.
Windows XP will highlight the filename for the first photo, enabling you to give it a descriptive name. After you type in the name, click the white space outside of the photo and watch as Windows applies the name with a sequential number to each picture in the folder.
Since the early roots of photography, people have been fascinated with capturing the world up close--superclose, bumps-on-a-frog close. Most digital cameras come with a macro mode that allows you to get very close to your subject. Sometimes, this mode is simply called "close-up" and is denoted by a flower icon on your camera. Depending on your camera, close
can be defined as anything from 6 to 18 inches. But what if you want to see the very pores? This tip will help you get started.
Here are a few ways to get these types of startling shots. The first way
is to buy a macro lens that is designed specifically for this type of shooting. Unfortunately, these lenses are often quite pricey. A second option
is to buy extension tubes for your DSLR. An extension tube
is a light-tight tunnel that extends the distance from your lens to the camera body, thereby increasing magnification--the greater the distance, the more magnification. But what if your digital camera isn't an SLR or doesn't take interchangeable lenses? The third, and most affordable, option
is to buy a close-up lens that mounts on top of your current lens, the same way that filters attach. Some cameras have adapters for these auxiliary lenses. But if yours doesn't, third-party manufacturers such as Raynox
have devised clever workarounds to enable this capability on just about any digital camera. The advantages are that you don't have to buy a whole new lens and you can use the close-up lens with any camera, including an SLR.
Close enough for you?
A couple of things to note:
- Shooting 1 inch away from a subject is tricky because the lens has very little tolerance for being even a little too far or too close to the object. If you move out of that 1-inch in-focus area, your object will quickly get soft. This means that to take really good shots you need to mount your camera on a tripod.
- Find a good location to shoot the object. Place the object on a table with a white background, either cloth or paper. Ideally, you want your camera to be facing straight at the object. So get a chair and sit down in front of your camera.
- One advantage to shooting with a tripod is that you can have long exposures without having to worry about camera shake. To be safe, either use a shutter cable or, if your camera can't accept one, the built-in self-timer. Even the shake from holding down the shutter button can blur the image.
- Before taking your shot, it's a good idea to measure the white-point of the image and set your camera accordingly. This will save you lots of color-balancing work later in Photoshop. For most digital cameras, this is done by selecting the Measure White-point feature on your camera and holding the shutter halfway down. The camera will then measure the light of your image and base the white-point on the particular lighting you are using. If you can't measure the white-point manually, some cameras will let you choose from a menu of presets, such as Tungsten, Fluorescent, or Daylight. Set your camera appropriately to get the best color balance possible.
| Submitted by: |
Author of Digital Photography Hacks; professional photographer
|Derrick Story is the managing editor of O'Reilly Network and has spent more than 15 years as a professional photojournalist. He also runs a photography business called Story Photography. He is the author of Digital Photography Hacks, as well as the Digital Photography Pocket Guide and the Digital Video Pocket Guide. |
This material has been adapted from Digital Photography Hacks by Derrick Story, published by O'Reilly Media. Copyright O'Reilly Media, Inc., 2004. All rights reserved. O'Reilly makes no representation as to the accuracy of the materials provided by them. To purchase this or other O'Reilly publications, click here.