When and how to use your flash

Follow our tips to start using your flash correctly and taking some great shots.
  • James Nolan (PC Advisor (UK))
  • 28 February, 2008 14:38

Don't believe the adverts - there isn't a camera out there that's truly comfortable with poor lighting. But the bright sparks at PCA Towers have some tips to help you take smart snaps in the gloomiest of conditions. Follow our tips to start using your flash correctly and taking some great shots.

1. To get the best from the light that's available you should consider whether the flash will be a help or a hindrance. The lightning symbol on your camera indicates the flash. In most cases, you can change the flash setup by repeatedly pressing the flash button to cycle through various options.


Step 1

2. To capture action in low light using a flash, anticipate where the action will take place and pre-focus by pressing the shot button halfway. This will speed up the camera's reaction to the shot and reduce shutter lag. Also remember to keep your subject within your flash's range (usually about 5m).


Step 2

3. Another option is to turn off your flash and increase the exposure. Your camera will compensate by keeping your shutter open for longer, allowing more light into the sensor. This takes a bit of trial and error and will also increase the amount of blurring, but the more faithful reproduction you'll get will be worth the trouble.


Step 3 - Shutter too fast; perfect; shutter too slow

4. Blur is unavoidable if you choose not to use the flash in low-light situations. However, there are different types of blurring. Motion blur (the movement of your subject) can sometimes improve a shot. Camera shake, on the other hand, will ruin it. Make sure your camera is on a very stable surface.


Step 4

5. If your camera is on auto, there will be occasions when the flash doesn't fire, even though the lighting is poor. This may be because your subject is standing in front of a source of light, such as the sky. In such cases you need to force the flash, which will light the underexposed areas of your subject.


Step 5

6. Anti-red-eye flash settings are rarely a total success and can be distinctly annoying. So try to do without them. Shoot at an angle to your subject so that the flash doesn't bounce back into the lens. Alternatively, let the editing software on your camera or PC deal with the problem later.


Step 6 - Red-eye: before and after

7. White-balance settings can make a huge difference indoors. Auto white balance is getting better on some cameras but, as you'll usually shoot for a while in the same lighting, adjusting it yourself is usually worth the effort. 'Fluorescent' is self-explanatory; 'incandescent/tungsten' refers to normal household bulbs.


Step 7 - Manual and automatic white balance

8. Nothing ruins low-light photos more than reflective glare from the flash. Always be aware of your surroundings and try to avoid using the flash when your camera is pointing directly at a reflective surface, such as a window or mirror. And if you can't move your subject, move yourself.


Step 8