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Miscellaneous tips and hints for flash

A collection of helpful pointers


The dark body of this eagle occupies more than a third of the frame, making correct TTL flash exposure difficult. Compensation of +1 stop showed adequate detail for good exposure.
The dark body of this eagle occupies more than a third of the frame, making correct TTL flash exposure difficult. Compensation of +1 stop showed adequate detail for good exposure.

BLACK, WHITE AND REFLECTIVE SUBJECTS

Even with a TTL (through-the-lens) fully-automatic flash system, correct exposure can’t be gotten automatically if the subject is mostly black or white, or if it has a highly-reflective surface. You should compensate for these conditions by using the camera’s exposure compensation control button (if it has one) or, manually, by opening the aperture wider (for predominantly dark subjects) or stopping down the aperture (for extremely white or highly-reflective subjects).

BUYING A NEW FLASH UNIT?

When buying a new flash unit or a new camera, you can’t go wrong by matching brand names with brand names, ensuring that both flash and camera are compatible. A “dedicated flash” is one that is designed for a specific camera model. A brand name dedicated flash is made by the camera’s manufacturer, whereas an off-brand dedicated flash (which is often less-expensive) is made by someone else to suit a specific camera’s features. The concern in buying an off-brand dedicated flash, particularly if your camera has sophisticated features, is that it may not perform all of the same functions as a brand name unit or it may not perform them as well. There is also the possibility that off-brand accessories may damage your equipment. The upside is that you may find a quality off-brand unit from a reputable manufacturer that performs to a high standard at significant savings.

Be sure to take some test photos to ascertain that your new flash will work properly in its various modes before you take important pictures.

BATTERY CHECK - TEST YOUR FLASH BEFORE USING

Make it a rule to test-fire your flash before you actually begin taking flash pictures, and count the number of seconds it takes for it to recycle (i.e. for the ready-light to come on). If it takes more than thirty seconds, you probably need fresh alkaline batteries. If you are using lithium or rechargeable NiCd batteries and the ready-light does not come on after ten seconds, they should be replaced.

USE A TRIPOD FOR SLOW SHUTTER SPEEDS

When using fill flash and your shutter speed is less than 1/60 sec, be sure to use a tripod or other firm support to avoid blur from camera shake.

This image shows three problems of electronic flash - the reflected glare from the window, the dark shadow on the sofa and the harsh light on the subject, who seems not to notice or care about any of the problems.
This image shows three problems of electronic flash - the reflected glare from the window, the dark shadow on the sofa and the harsh light on the subject, who seems not to notice or care about any of the problems.

UNWANTED REFLECTIONS & HOT SPOTS

Be aware of shiny surfaces when taking pictures. Glass, bright metals, glossy wood, brightly-painted surfaces and other shiny materials in a scene will reflect your flash back at you, creating an unsightly “hot spot” in your picture, when they are photographed straight on.

The flash hot spot is a common mistake for beginners because they (and everyone else) don’t see reflected light when composing the picture. Unlike studio flash modeling lights or a video camera light, electronic flash is dark until it fires. Reposition yourself when you realize your camera and flash are facing a shiny surface so that the light strikes it at an angle that won’t reflect back into the lens.

Double-exposures are fun to do, but flash fundamentals must be kept in mind. The glare from the polished wood surface could have been avoided, and this picture would have been much-improved.
Double-exposures are fun to do, but flash fundamentals must be kept in mind. The glare from the polished wood surface could have been avoided, and this picture would have been much-improved.

STORING YOUR FLASH

Putting the flash unit away for a couple of weeks or more? Remove the batteries to prevent problems of battery leakage. Storing it for a longer period? Be sure to insert fresh batteries in it once monthly and then fire the flash several times to reform its capacitor and keep it in good condition.

Store the flash unit in a cool, dry place. Be sure there is no chance of mold or mildew forming on it. Never keep it in the glove compartment of a car in summer time. Don’t stow it near chemicals that release vapors that can harm it, such as camphor or naphthalene, and keep it away from the electromagnetic waves from televisions and radios.

SAFETY POINTERS

1) Exposing a flash unit to water, including rain, could cause electric shock or set the unit on fire. Most flash units are not waterproof, and will corrode inside if water gets in.
2) Touching the front of the flash head during its normal operation can burn you.
3) Firing a flash directly into someone’s eyes at close range may possibly damage the retina, leading to partial or complete blindness.
4) Never take apart your flash unit and don’t attempt to repair it yourself. Its high-voltage circuitry can cause electric shock.

FASTER FILM OR A HIGHER SENSITIVITY SETTING INCREASES FLASH DISTANCE

The effective range of your flash increases with film speed or higher ISO sensitivity settings in your digital camera. For instance, changing from ISO 100 to ISO 400 will extend the flash shooting distance so that objects farther away will be illuminated.

LCD PANELS

If your flash has an LCD (Liquid Crystal Diode) panel, be sure to look at it head-on since it can be difficult to read when viewing it from the side.

LCDs can become black at temperatures of 140°F (60°C) and higher, whereas cold temperatures below 41°F (5°C) slow down LCD’s. They return to normal at room temperature - 68°F (20°C).