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Let There Be Light

By Mike Pasini, Editor
Imaging Resource Newsletter

We know the guy who calibrates just exactly when your automatic flash pops into action. He lives in a very bright part of the country where he's blinded whenever he walks indoors. To him, a day without flash is a day without sunshine.

"Sunshine works just fine indoors without flash . . . It's called available light."

Sunshine works just fine indoors without flash, though. It's called available light. And you can get some stunning pictures with it just by turning off your automatic flash.

Odds are, it was the light that attracted you to the picture to begin with. Sunshine streaming in from a curtained window as Aunt Earhart made airplane noises while tossing Baby Huey into the air. Dawn falling like a whisper on a vase of just-cut roses from the garden. Shafts of sunlight knifing through the kitchen to fall on a solitary place setting. Delicate sunbeams dancing on the surface of the pool late in the afternoon.

Then the flash guy ruins it. "Not enough light, Jack. Flash it!"

And the scene ends up evenly illuminated but nothing like what you thought you saw.

The problem is that your meter is averaging the light in the whole scene. And if the level calls for the flash, and it's not manually turned off, you get flashed. But often there's more than enough light for your subject, if not for the scene. A face, for example. That rose. The plate on the table. The highlights in the pool.

You can find out by switching to spot metering and reading just those values, but don't shoot from them. Metering a highlight will just muddy the shot. Best to let the automatic camera think there just isn't enough light, hold steady, and shoot.

And if you've got full manual control of the aperture and shutter settings, you can have even more fun. Experiment. You can do this with an automatic-only camera, too. Just change your EV settings to fool the meter into properly exposing the subject.

Then we can send the flash guy to some place where the sun only rises an hour a day and he can trade his sunburn in for some red-eye.

This article is reprinted from The Imaging Resource Digital Photography Newsletter,
Advanced Mode Column, published May 5, 2000