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Pop-Up Flash; A Convenient “Taste Of Light”:
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Improving Your Flash Pictures
Even though you don’t have a lot of control with a pop-up flash, there are steps you can take that will improve the quality of your images. For example, being aware that shiny surfaces and glass reflect light, you can change the shooting angle so you don’t get a blinding reflection. When I photographed a framed weaving I bought in Burma (#8), I stood right in front of the artwork and took the shot. The resulting reflection is obviously unacceptable. I then shot from a much lower position (#9), so the flash bounced off the glass and away from the lens. This solved the problem. This solution is straight out of a science book: the angle of incidence equals the angle of reflectance. This means that the angle the light strikes the object is the same angle that it reflects off the object. Lesson? When using a built-in flash, think angles, not straight ahead.

#8

#9

Another issue is the harsh light that is created with direct on-camera flash. With more sophisticated portable flashes, there are several options to soften the light that I’ll discuss later. For the built-in flash, however, there is only one way to reduce the harsh, glaring quality of the light. And the good news is, it’s free. You can put a small piece of white paper or translucent fabric in front of the flash (#10), and that will soften the light to a certain degree. The African mask in (#11 and #12) shows the subtle effect of using a softening cloth or tissue. Notice the glare from the flash between the nose and the mouth in (#11), but in the comparison picture it has been mostly removed by using the paper over the flash. Admittedly, the difference is subtle, but even the smallest of differences in light, color, and contrast can improve your pictures.

#10

#11
#12

You can use this same technique when shooting people as well. The difference will be subtle, but the quality of the light will definitely be improved.

Another problem is that a built-in flash can create an unattractive shadow behind the subject. This is especially noticeable when you turn the camera to take a vertical composition (#13). This can be eliminated by shooting against a black background, moving the subject away from a wall or near background, shooting at night where the background is very dark, or changing the angle of the camera and flash relative to the background so the shadow either disappears or it becomes insignificant.

#13
#14

You can see the same problem in (#14), a typical indoor snapshot taken with an on-camera flash. The shadow behind my wife is distracting and undesirable. If the built-in flash is situated on the camera body such that it is to the side of the lens axis, you will get a defined shadow behind the subject. The further the flash is from the axis, the wider the shadow will be. The Javanese dolls in (#15) show another example of an unwanted shadow on the wall. By placing a piece of black fabric behind them (I used black velvet in this case), the shadows disappeared (#16).

#15
#16

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