Taking Better Digital Photos With Auto Settings Part 3:
Auto Flash And Lighting

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Digital Cameras
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Using the auto mode on a digital camera gives you a point and shoot camera that allows you to concentrate on the subject while the camera makes the necessary settings to give you a well exposed and properly focused image.

But like most automatic features, knowing how they function will help you keep the camera from getting fooled in those special situations that often yield the most dramatic photos: including when your subject is backlit or off-center.

Understanding Lighting

A photograph is essentially a record of the light conditions at a certain point in time and space. We recognize the patterns of colors and shapes in a photograph because they resemble what we see in daily life. Light is so common that we take it for granted, but the photographer needs to be attuned to the subtlety of light in order to make effective pictures.

What we consider to be 'white' light is actually made up of all the colors of the spectrum. This is easy to demonstrate with a prism - let light shine through it and it will refract into all the colors of the rainbow. In fact, we see rainbows because water droplets are acting as prisms by breaking up the white light from the sun and splitting it into colors.

Objects have different colors because they reflect those colors while absorbing the others. Black absorbs all color - it is the absence of color.


Even though all light may look alike to us, different light sources emphasize certain parts of the color spectrum. Bright sunlight from about 10 am to 2 pm, for example, has a bluish tinge. Early morning and late afternoon sunlight is red because it is filtered through the earth's atmosphere.

Artificial light also has distinct color characteristics. Incandescent light brings out red colors while fluorescent light is greenish-blue.

The photographer can take advantage of these different characteristics when taking shots. Either the camera can be adjusted to compensate for the light source or the special characteristics of the light can be used for artistic effect.

Most digital cameras can be adjusted for color balance. There may be several options: auto, manual, daylight, incandescent and flash. They can be used to compensate for the light source so that white is truly white. This allows the colors to be reproduced accurately.

In some cases you may wish to get a special effect by altering the white setting to a different color. You can preview how this will look on the LCD monitor.

The direction of the light source is a very important consideration in photography. Light can come from above, behind, below or the side of the subject and each produces a different effect. Generally speaking, a diffuse light coming from the sides will be a good starting point when photographing people. This kind of light occurs in the early morning and late afternoon, or can be produced in the studio with an umbrella reflector.

Of course, all kinds of special effects can be produced by lighting your subject in different ways. Backlighting can create a halo effect, while overhead lights can create strong contrasts between light and shadow.

Another factor which affects photography is the strength of the light. Direct light creates strong shadows while diffuse light can create a warm atmosphere by reducing the contrast between objects.

The beauty of digital photography is that you can experiment to your heart's content without running up film or processing costs. Get ideas for lighting by looking through photography books you can find here: www.takebetterdigitalphotos.com/Photography_Books.html and trying out various types of lighting to see what works for you.

Using Flash Automatic Flash

Auto flash is a great tool for solving common lighting problems, but unless used with care it can create some additional problems.

Almost every digital camera is equipped with automatic flash. Most cameras have several flash settings for different lighting conditions. The flash can be set to automatically trigger when the light conditions are too dim, and there are usually several other settings for greater control over the flash.

The flash is usually integrated into the body of the camera. This is very convenient -- just shoot the camera and allow the flash to come on if it is needed. There are, however, a few problems related to the close proximity between flash and lens.

The most common problem is red eye. Everybody has seen this -- the eyes of people (and even animals) take on a weird red glow. This is caused by the light from the flash reflecting back from the retina of the eye. The thin red blood vessels in the retina cause the red color.

Some cameras have a flash setting which reduce this red eye effect. This works by firing a short flash before the picture is taken which causes the iris of the eye to become smaller.

Another problem caused by integrated flash is a lack of depth. The reason for this is the even illumination over the entire surface of the subject. Shadows which normally give a sense of depth are eliminated.

Both red eye and flatness can be reduced with a separate flash unit. They can be powered with a 'hot shoe' (a bracket on the camera body) or a cable which synchronizes the flash with the built-in flash of the camera.

By moving the source of the flash away from the lens, added depth is created and the subject's eyes are not directly illuminated. External flash units also give you more options for aiming the flash -- the light can be bounced off other objects for a more subtle effect. Also, objects which are closer to the flash will appear brighter.

Not all flashes are created equal. They are available in various strengths, and the power of the flash determines how much area it can light up. Most manufacturers specify the maximum range of a flash. This distance can be achieved when the aperture of the camera is fully opened.

Shop flashes and digital cameras at: www.takebetterdigitalphotos.com/Shop_Cameras_Online.html

About the Author

The Editors at www.TakeBetterDigitalPhotos.com are committed to bringing you the most useful information about the rapidly evolving field of digital photography from a hobbyist perspective. Visit the Quick Tips page for techniques you can use at your next event or photo opportunity.


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