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When should one employ flash while taking photographs?

There are some photographers who vehemently reject the idea of using light or flash modifiers. They mostly do it because their preferred style of photos may not be congruous with the style that the light or flash modifiers employ to lighten up the photos. While for other photographers, the very idea of using flash may not be a pleasant and welcoming thought. It is a noted fact that photographers are fond of soft, natural light but they are also greatly attached to the knowledge of utilising artificial light to enhance photos in obscure environments which are afflicted by a paucity of light. Also, such invaluable knowledge gives the cameraman the confidence to tackle arduous, steep tasks in any environment without any qualms or scruples. They won't be dubious about their own abilities and will possess the peace of mind to handle all situations without any hassles. Here, we can talk about situations when flash should be employed while also juxtaposing those situations with some specific instances when flash will be out of place. Let's look at both indoor and outdoor photography when we try delve deep into this tricky topic. The following points should be read and internalised by only those aspiring photographers who are already proficient in some elementary concepts like ISO, Aperture, Shutter Speed, Focus, Metering etc. Those who are yet to go through those concepts must read the previous sections and ensure that they are confident with those concepts and only then must they attempt to understand these slightly advanced topics.

Let's first go through the applications of flash in indoor settings.

  1. Indoors:
  • How To Light Churches, Ballrooms, Wedding and Corporate Reception Areas? When you are a working professional, you must be adroit at the basic light plans, and you must also be a dexterous capturer of the day. Sophisticated DSLRs may be quite flexible for you to capture images in a really poorly lit environment, but it is obviously a complex game of compromises. It's like the game of chess. While you try to make the best moves to beat your adversaries and obstacles during the wedding, the circumstances might play better and checkmate you. If the light levels are too low, you might have to be ready to deal with blurry images that are likely to be maligned, vilified, scorned and denigrated. These images are usually the results of blur/camera shake, and you must try to avoid these lapses at all costs. On the other hand, you might also be required to increase the ISO levels, but these could give rise to a number of unintended side-effects. Some of the commonly observed ones can be ascribed to unnecessary noises, messed-up colours and the greatly diminished dynamic range. To put it succinctly, you are leaving very limited options for the post-processing stage of photography and therefore reduces your ability to be versatile. In order to avoid such problems and also to reduce the headaches that you will potentially be afflicted with when you see the small amount of post-processing time you are left with, you will obviously look to use the best weapon in your photography arsenal-the flash. You can initially begin with a pretty rudimentary configuration and then try to climb up the ladder. You could just mount the flash on the camera, or you could also be more innovative and ingenious and use flash in an off-camera setup to make your images more fascinating and enchanting, while at the same time achieving the elusive dramatic effects and the sense of balance. Wedding Ballrooms, churches and reception areas can be mired in problems that are concomitant with the scarcity of proper lighting. The idea that usually germinates in the minds of photographers when faced with this problem is to create a primary source of light that is significantly brighter and also much more pleasant than the comparatively dim, ambient light that blankets them. As a norm, churches refrain from permitting photographers to arm themselves with flash during important ceremonies, and you might have to strike a conversation with the church officials and try to negotiate with them even before the inception of the ceremony. But in other locations, you can exercise the freedom to use strobes and light modifiers without being servile in front officials.
  • So what is indeed the basic set up? If you are provided with white ceilings that don't go as far to kiss the skies with their towering spires, you can just mount the flash on your DSLR and then try to bounce light off the ceiling or white walls that are in your vicinity. If the walls and ceiling are of different colours, try to refrain from bouncing the flash. Light will always imbibe the colour from where it is bounced from-Drill this fact into your mind. Green walls will typically create a grotesque green colour on your subjects.
  • Every Photographer who is reasonably serious about the time he spends during the event and then after the event during the post-processing periods should always equip himself with a bounce card. This won't saturate your bag. If, inadvertently, you forget your card at home or at the studio, don't think twice before creating one out of plain white paper. Procure a scotch tape to mount your handmade bounce card on top of your flash, and within a few moments, you will have made yourself a much better light source when compared to your direct flash.
  • But a more complex setup presents some unique challenges that aren't that easy to overcome. This kind of setup may force you to move the light source away from the camera, and photographers usually term this process "off-camera flash". You could just set up a couple of lights that will irradiate the area from many sides and angles. Just set up one flash behind your subject as rim light and just a single flash that bounces off or shoots through an umbrella could give rise to some images with exemplary features in indoor environments. With the aid of modern camera systems, you can wrest control by directly utilising your camera or with the help of infrared or radio transmitters.
  • How to photograph details indoors? Read on to find out the nuances of indoor photography! If, in any case, you are an event photographer, your job might entail the requirement to photograph details for vendors who facilitate that event. The vendors wil usually vary drastically, and they aren't confined to wedding planners, florists or bakers. As an event photographer, you are typically expected to catch all these nondescript details with ease. In terms of lighting the details too, you may not need more than what you already have at your disposal for lighting ballrooms, but it has be noted with meticulous care that working with stationary items is far easier for you because they don't really move or talk. If you desire the prospect of avoiding the utilisation of flash in such crunch circumstances, you might be needed to ensure that you are capturing photos at least in a semi-lit place. But you must also need some other accessories to ensure that your photographing experience moves on smoothly. You must not be caught in a storm in the middle of the ocean with no one to come to your aid in your phase of extreme distress. In such cases, you must have a tripod and a camera that are specifically set for slower shutter speeds. This small process will ensure that the camera is furnished with adequate light to come up with sharp and balanced photos. One thing that it will unquestionably not do is the hastening of the process. If you harbour the desire, in the chasms of heart, to cut the time in half and get the photographing of details done with faster, you have only limited options at your disposal. You have to somehow properly light the area where you are photographing correctly. Otherwise, you might be as helpless as a man stranded in a desert with no water in sight. To achieve this purpose, you must attach a flash to the top of your camera that will bounce off light from a white card. You can also try to be a bit more complex with your endeavours. Improvisation is the mark of a consummate photographer. You must always look for opportunities to be versatile. Any art form must be approached with a regimented schedule and an organised plan in mind, but over time, you must buttress the theoretical knowledge with a good dose of improvisation abilities.
  • You must look to be creative and innovative whenever the circumstances allow you to do so. Your skill is like an edifice that's built block by block like the game of Jenga. When the block of improvisation is pulled away from the structure, the whole arrangement will disintegrate and collapse, leaving nothing but the fragments of what could have been a comprehensively arranged composition. You can go with a stationed back light and then fill light on the sides for a much more professional look to exhibit. The viewer will be stunned by your abilities to be versatile. Try to jump out of the box and try out new things like what has been just mentioned. This will give you the skills to adapt to new, uncertain circumstances. For example, the current coronavirus pandemic has ravaged the world and has put many industries in a state of peril. It hasn't spared the field of photography too and has done its part to jeopardise the whole industry. So, only those photographers who always had the elusive capabilities to adapt and improvise can survive while those who got typecast and found themselves stuck in a box are now struggling to adjust to the new normal that they have been provided with.

I am slightly digressing here, but it is essential to mention the utility of camera settings in the sphere of wedding photography. Some of them are:

  • The area of autofocus that must be focused on: Most cameras have a complicated setting to opt for the optimal focal point for the shot. When you are shooting weddings, you might find yourself frequently shooting between objects in close proximity to you to obtain the perfect image that you desire. This might make the camera select that particular object as the focal point. In addition, when you are shooting without a great deal of help from light sources, it can become even more cumbersome for the camera to select the right focal point. When you have little to no margin for error during weddings, it might become difficult for you to identify the mistakes made by your camera. Suppose your camera selects the wrong focal point, you might have to pause your shooting and make the camera choose the correct focal point. But things happen pretty fast during weddings, and you must always be on the go. So, this small lapse could cost you a brilliant shot. To solve this predicament, set the camera for single-point autofocus while the focal point can be narrowed down to the centre point. To now focus, just use the centre focal point by pressing the shutter button halfway vigorously and then produce the shot you want.
  • Setting pertaining to the Date and Time: When you are shooting for weddings, you must ensure that you have got the right date/time setting on your came. It must be extremely accurate so much so that even the seconds are depicted correctly. Later, when you try to upload the photos for editing purposes, this effort pays off by making the process so much quicker. This is because all the photos will now be in perfect, chronological order and you don't need to peruse everything to find the photo or video that you badly need. Remember that there is no easy, time-efficient method to reorder all these photos in almost all the photo software applications in the market. So, this method is a brilliant time-optimizer for you if you are looking to post these photos on online platforms as it just simply looks much better and organized if everything is arranged in the chronological order. This also saves a lot of time for you when you plan to arrange the final wedding album.


Let's now get back to the use of flash in photography.


2. Outdoors:


  • Use Fill Flash when the subject is poorly lit: Most photographers try to avoid using flash outdoors citing various reasons which can either be substantiated with logic or not. But some cameramen opt for flash. They love natural light, and there is obviously nothing that's more convenient than narrowing down on a beautiful spot with an enchanting backdrop that's supported with some cosy shade. Also, if you are looking to photograph in the afternoon, especially during the late hours just before dusk, the light is extremely gorgeous, and your photographs will be ignited by that elusive spark that so many photographers search for. But as the day progresses and the wheel of time rolls on, your camera will start complaining about the lack of light. It will struggle to keep up with whatever light is available, and your photos will be affected as a direct consequence. You might then be provoked into using some alternate sources of light to somehow finish the job. So, learning how to set up lights in such tricky, unwelcome situations is very important for any photographer worth his salt. As much as the Sun rays may act as pesky hindrances when you are trying to photograph your subjects in a beautiful manner, absence of the Sun and paucity of good ambient light can be equally painful for you. Similar to photographing indoors, you may be forced to expose your subjects somehow using artificial light sources.
  • For some images, a single Speedlight positioned to the left of the subjects can be extremely helpful in difficult circumstances that require you to improvise. When you position the speeldight in such a manner, you can try to shoot through a medium sized umbrella at full power without any second thoughts that may cause doubts and impede your performance. With flash, the whole sky be completely blown out, and of course, no photographer would desire such a thing.
  • Fill Flash while trying to shoot backlit: Picturing subjects backlit can sometimes give rise to a nice, well defined separation and could also bring the much needed depth to your images. But you must be aware of the fact that if the subject is heavily backlit(sometimes this can be observed when the Sun is behind the subject), the opposite side of the subject where you stand might sometimes be inadequately exposed. While it is possible to procure a reflector(don't forget an assistant who will be an indispensable asset when you are looking to achieve the task of holding it!) to help you somehow get a much more balanced exposure from the front, the fill flash feature can conjure up wonders out of nowhere. A single, lone diffused light that's isolated from the rest of the setting and is positioned away from the camera can perform your tasks with exceedingly good quality and efficiency. Some professional photographers tend to use one medium sized umbrella or a softbox on a stand to get this done easily.
  • Shooting on a Sunny Day-How to overpower the Sun to avoid hot spots and intense shadows? Sunny days can provide you with ample opportunities if utilised in a proper manner. These days give you abundant light to buttress your photos and will also provide your photos with the elusive and invaluable aesthetic appeal that will help the photos reach the audience with customary ease. Sunlight can be of various shades, and in the evening, the Sun will be glowing in all its glory. One can observe a confluence of the pale orange and the mighty, angry red just before dusk. So, if you want to take some beautiful photos in a clandestine manner so as to not attract attention, while still avoiding the discordance that sometimes germinates from poor colour combinations, you could bide your time and wait for dusk. But Sunlight keeps an obstacle in front of you-shadows. Ironically, shadows are formed because there is an obstacle that impedes the path of the Sun's rays, but these shadows themselves serve as obstacles for any photographer. Shadows themselves don't have any malevolent or malicious intentions, but they eventually tend to tarnish the quality of images by obstructing the most crucial light source-the Sun.
  • Some of the biggest problems posed by the Sun can become conspicuous in the afternoons when the Sun is directly overhead. As mentioned before, some really gorgeous photos can be captured during such periods of harsh light, but photographing portraits can become an onerous task, and that will inevitably lead to an unpleasant experience for any photographer. Similar to situations that force the photographer to take backlit photos, a professional, experienced photographer would recommend taking out a nondescript umbrella or a softbox and somehow kick the first domino and get the game going. Correctly setting the flash will help avoid many of the ugly, blanketing shadows that have the potential to envelop the whole image in an ocean of darkness. People's faces can be plagued by shades of darkness which sometimes leads to 'raccoon eyes'. Therefore, flashes can be used as a tool for intervention and can be employed to properly expose the faces of the subjects.

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