Feeling Flashy: Using Your Flash When it’s Least Expected

Recently, I took a web-based photography class via CreativeLive, taught by the incredibly talented Roberto Valenzuela. Though the class was geared toward wedding photographers, I gleaned some valuable information as an amateur photographer (cough cough). A cool tip I learned, which I’ll share with you here, is how to use your flash to create some beautiful shots.

When you think of flash photography, you think of low light, indoors, red eyes, blown out skin…just BAD…right? Well, it’s a tool, and it can be used in a way you wouldn’t necessarily think of!

This weekend, we visited a pumpkin patch at around 2:30 in the afternoon. It’s a notoriously “bad” time of day to shoot because the sun is still really bright, but lower in the sky, creating deep shadows, too much contrast, and it makes people squint if you try to eliminate shadows and have your subject face the sun.

Enter the flash. 

Sunflower photo no flash

It’s an okay shot, but the flower looks dark and sad.

Here’s what you do:

  • Position your subject with their back to the sun.
  • Stand in the direction of their shadow
  • Set your camera to “P” (program) or whatever setting you need to force the flash on
  • Aim and shoot!

See what happens when you do this (I applied ZERO Photoshop to this):

Sunflower with flash

Look how vibrant the flower becomes! And you don’t lose any of the color in the sky, either.

You can get a truly dramatic effect with the sun directly behind your subject:

Dramatic sunflower shot with flash

Look at how dramatic this becomes! You still capture all the detail in the sky.

I didn’t manage to get many good shots of my toddler, since it was near nap time, but this one was a pretty cool example of the effect you can get with this technique.

Photographing in bright sun with the flash

How cool and dramatic is this? Using the flash forces the lens to stay open and accept some light.

I use a point-and-shoot Canon PowerShot S95, which is pretty awesome as far as a little camera goes, but it’s no SLR. You can get some great shots with practice and I’m a HUGE fan of the Canon brand after several failed attempts with Sony and Panasonic cameras.

That’s my photography tip for the day. If you have any cool tricks you use with your point-and-shoot camera, please share the link in the comments!

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