Digital Camera Home > Make a Wish

Make a Wish

By Mike Pasini, Editor
Imaging Resource Newsletter

"Get the lights!" you hear someone yell in panic. The room plunged into darkness, an unrehearsed (and strained) chorus of Happy Birthday tries to find its voice as you fiddle with your digicam, framing the Aged Wonder and The Cake, wait for the right moment ... and (make a wish) snap.

Unfortunately, if you didn't blind everyone with the flash (because after reading last issue's advice, you remembered to turn it off) you got a blurry mess of a shot that looks a lot like a UFO landing. At least to several of the more boisterous guests.

"Gorgeous cake shots -- that look like Caravaggio or Rembrandt painted them -- are easy. You just have to make a couple of adjustments ..."

But gorgeous cake shots -- that look like Caravaggio or Rembrandt painted them -- are easy. You just have to make a couple of adjustments about the time you hear "Get the lights!"

The first is to turn off the flash. It ruins the mood.

The second is to tell your automatic exposure system not to work too hard. It's usually intent on rendering the scene as if it were noon, exposing the dark room as if it should look like a sunny sidewalk. You have to tell it, "Hey, this is a dark picture, relax."

Not in those exact words, though.

You'll find a feature called exposure compensation (also known as EV settings) somewhere in your camera's menu of options. The values range from minus something to plus something (usually two or five, depending on your camera). The minus settings are the equivalent of saying, "Relax, this is a dark picture." And the plus settings, "Yo! Attack from the Empire of the Sun Spots! Batten down the hatches!!!"

On a manual camera, EV settings are the equivalent (roughly, roughly; there are actually sophisticated algorithms that determine the precise combination) of changing the f-stop on the lens to allow more or less light in, or the shutter speed for the same reason, or some combination of both just to be clever.

How much should your camera relax for a cake shot?

A lot. Try -2 EV. That should give you a fast enough shutter speed to stop the candle blower in action (no blur) while illuminating the surface of the cake without burning out the decorations (no UFO).

The cake and the face of the honoree will be very warmly illuminated by the candles. You may even get the face of the person delivering the cake. Take a couple of shots as the chorus winds down and that birthday wish is made, since you aren't taxing your camera with a flash recharge.

When the lights go back on, remember to return your EV setting to zero (where it normally is). And enable your flash again or you won't get any of those hilarious red-eye shots.

 

This article is reprinted from The Imaging Resource Digital Photography Newsletter,
Beginner's Flash Column, published June 2, 2000

 

This article is reprinted from The Imaging Resource Digital Photography Newsletter,
Beginner's Flash Column, published February 25, 2000

 

Reader Comments!
Questions, comments or controversy on this article? Click this link to see what other Imaging Resource readers have had to say about Make a Wish, or add comments of your own!