A flash to capture lights?!

OK…you may not be a pro photographer. You might just be a person using a point-and-shoot. Either way, you have to at least know that a flash does no good when you’re trying to take a picture of lights.

Tonight, the wife and I went to our local park to look at light displays. Driving along, enjoying the displays when we receive the overpowering glare of a camera flash. Not once, or twice…but the entire time.

If you aren’t aware, the flash is meant for lighting an unlit/dark subject, or filling in the shadows of a brightly lit subject with dark shadows (a backlit person in broad daylight). It will not work if the subject is a light, or if the subject is over about 20-30 feet out (except in certain circumstances). In football/baseball/basketball games, NASCAR races, etc. The flash is worthless.

The joy of digital cameras is how easy it is to check the picture and settings to adjust for the best picture. For my Nikon D50, I use manual mode, 1/30 shutter and a wide open aperture. Christmas lights come out nicely as long as I’m steady. If I want more glow, I throw it on a tripod and use full auto without flash, then I adjust in manual mode from there for the best balance.

OK…so you don’t have a full DSLR then. There are settings in all PnS cameras that allow you to adjust the exposure or turn off the flash (as a minimum). In a car, turn off the flash and hold the camera against the car. You can then adjust your exposure settings from there. If you’re not sure how to do this, it’s better to leave the camera at home, or deal with bad pictures.

If you happen to take the pictures, and they’re dark, you’re in luck.

Most digital cameras, by the nature of the sensor, have a LOT of information stored in the dark areas. You can generally take an extremely under-exposed picture, and with a simple program, pull the exposure out of it into a normal looking photo. You can’t do this with highlights though. Once they reach the magical number for maximum information, it’s gone forever. There’s NO backing down from highlights. Underexposure is correctable, over is not.

Using Google’s Picasa program: http://picasa.google.com/ you can double-click the photo, then select the Tuning tab on the left. Move the “Fill Light” slider up until it looks good. Done.

Here is an example:


This was straight from the camera, the photo was adjusted using ONLY the “Fill Light” from Picasa, saved to a different file, then both resized (using Gimp) to 1024×681 files. That’s it. Granted, this is an extreme case from a test photo for a party a few weeks back, but as you can see…it works. There is some minor loss in the extremely dark areas, but unless you look for it, you don’t notice it. Besides, a photo this dark would be deleted right off the bat. No second chances…but it gives you an idea of the tool’s capabilities. (Yes, photoshop could do it better and with more accuracy, but this is the easiest way for most folks)

Just try to turn off the flash once in a while…you’d be amazed at what you will find.


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