Stay Within Range Of Your Flash

June 16, 2010

How far will light from your flash travel?

This is something you need to know if you expect to get the most out of your camera’s flash unit when photographing your children. The flash built into most digital cameras is not extremely powerful; at best, you can expect to get a range of about 20 feet. To find the range of your camera’s flash, refer to the owner’s manual that came with your camera. You can almost always find the flash range listed in the specification section of the manual. If you can’t find the range of your flash listed there, assume it is no more than about 15 feet.

The range of your flash will also depend upon two other factors: the current ISO setting. The first factor — ISO — is pretty obvious. The more sensitive the CCD is made to light, the more effective the flash will be. It is an unfortunate side effect of zoom lens technology that when you increase the focal length to telephoto, you typically process less light than when you’re using a wide-angle or normal focal length lens. Since there is less light getting through the lens barrel to the CCD with telephoto magnification, the flash unit will have less range.

Using Fill Flash To Eliminate Shadows

Using Fill Flash To Eliminate Shadows

If you are used to the greater range you can get from an external flash unit mounted on top of a 35mm SLR camera, you might be disappointed by the range you can get from a small compact digital camera’s flash. It stands to reason, though, that the small flash unit built into a small compact digital camera would not have the same power as a larger flash head — with lots of AA batteries — mounted on an SLR camera. That means you will have to be aware of how far you’re trying to get the flash to throw its light, especially at night or in very dark conditions. If your subject is far way, say 25 feet or more, it is unlikely that any built in flash will have any effect at all on your photograph. In fact, some digital cameras disable the flash automatically when they sense that the lens is focused on infinity. You’ll want to check your camera manual that came with your camera to see if that feature applies to your camera.

Getting Too Close

Believe it or not, it is possible to get too close to your subject as well. Some digital camera flash units overexpose the subject when you are as close as a foot or two to that person or child. Since you know about the light reducing properties of a telephoto lens, you might think that you can get closer when you zoom in than if you are zoomed out. And, you would be right; with a typical camera, you cannot shoot any closer than about 3 feet when set on normal zoom, but you can shoot to within a single foot if you are zoomed in to telephoto.

There are a few ways to workaround this problem, depending upon what your flash unit is capable of doing:

Master Your Flash Modes

In our digital age, on and off are just too easy. Instead, your camera’s flash unit will have three or more modes, each intended for a specific situation. Here’s a list of the more common options:

Now, your camera may not include all of these features, so you might want to check out your camera manual before you get your heart set on trying out all these. Your camera though, should have some if not all of these votes.

Improve Your Outdoor Photographs

My experience is that most people are more disappointed when they are photographing their children outdoors than in any other kind of situation. They complain about the washed out sky — they remember that the sky was very blue when they took the picture — as well as ugly shadows on childrens faces, bad exposure, high contrast, and harsh shadows that go through their pictures. Why do all of these problems happen? Basically, it’s because your digital camera works differently than the way your eyes do. When you look around outside, your pupils — the apertures of your eyes — change diameter constantly to adjust for varying light conditions throughout the scene. When you look toward the sky, your pupils close so that you see rich, blue colors. Look under a tree, and your pupils will immediately open to help you see in the deep shadows that are there.

Add to that the fact that your eyes have a much wider range of exposure values than a camera does. When you press the shutter release on your camera, it has to choose a single exposure level and try to depict the entire scene with that one reading — regardless of how dramatically the light changes throughout the scene. When you think about it, it is a miracle that we can get any good pictures at all. However, having said that, there are many strategies that we can employ to get great pictures outdoor.

We will cover some of these in our next posts.

Remember, keep taking lots and lots of photographs of your kids. You will be glad you did!
BettySignature

Betty Muscott, Child Photographer

Betty Muscott, Child Photographer

ps: Don’t forget to sign up for our newsletter “Real Kids Photography” here!

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