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Lesson 12 from: The Beginner Photographer’s Crash Course

Khara Plicanic

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Lesson Info

12. Flash

Next Lesson: White Balance

Lesson Info


Now we're going to talk about all the different tools and cool functions and features that your camera's capable of, that most people have no idea about, and we'll talk through how to use them. So, that's going to include things like flash. People are aware of flash, but that's the main one. But, few people are aware of white balance and what that is or how to use it, things like exposure compensation, focus points and being able to control them. We're going to talk about metering modes, we've mentioned briefly already. And picture styles, a little bit. So, that's what's on the agenda today, and we're going to get started with flash. Oh yes! Cameras love flash, I don't think people love flash. (laughs) But cameras love flash, they love to use the flash. The main thing to know about your flash is that you have options... (clears throat) ...with your flash. Excuse me. So, you have a lot of options. Not just, do you use flash or not, but several different ways about how it is used. So, we...

're going to talk through these so you know what they all mean. So, we'll start with the auto flash. So that's represented with the lightning bolt with a little "A" next to it. And usually, it depends on your camera, but it might mean that you just pop the flash up or some cameras, like on point-and-shoots, you actually press the little flash button, it has a little lightning bolt next to it, and you can cycle through these options. So, it's going to be a little bit different for every camera, but auto flash means that the camera's going to decide whether or not it needs the flash. And you don't really know until you take the picture what the camera's going to decide to do. So, here's an example of what often happens in a situation like this. The thing about auto flash is it often fires when you really don't need it or don't want it to, and then in a situation like this where you actually would need it, it won't fire often. So the thing about auto flash really is just that it's pretty bad. So, sorry, but that is one thing you can, I would say, just completely go without. On my cameras I just have the flash turned off completely unless I really need it. So, this type of situation calls for a different flash setting. Something called fill flash. I call it forced flash, because I don't know, when I was learning all this stuff, I was like, "Fill flash? How do I know if I need to fill, and how much?" And I don't know, it seemed weird and confusing to me, but what you're really doing is forcing the camera to flash even when it doesn't think that it needs to. And the idea is that it's going to fill in the shadows in a scene. So if we go back here, that's my husband, and he is on a mountain top, which clearly the sun is shining, it's a sunny day, but he is appearing rather dark because he's in the shade. And the camera doesn't know if I'm taking a picture of him in the shade or maybe I'm just trying to take a picture of all those trees back there in the sun. It doesn't know. All it knows is there's a lot of light in that scene. So, it thinks it doesn't need a flash. So, that's one of the pitfalls of auto. And if we turn on fill flash to force it to fire, we can get this shot. And we even see you're reflected in the glasses a little bit. So, the background behind him looks the same, right? If we back up... The background didn't really change, but the camera now fires the flash which brings his exposure, his light needs to be more equal with the background. So, previously he was really dark, the background was really bright. We're not going to change the background, we'll brighten him up to be more in line with where the background is at. So, that's how that works. That's what fill flash is doing. It's just filling in what was previously a shadow. And that actually looked really well and turned out to be a great picture. So, that's the type of situation where with practice you can come to anticipate that the camera might be fooled by a situation like this because there's a bright area behind your subject. This is a very common situation that ends up under-exposed. I mean, you see, like pretty much every vacation photo ends up looking like this. It's just, that's what happens because people want to stand on the deck or whatever and show whatever's behind them and there's too much of a difference between their exposure and whatever's happening in the background. So, fill flash can be very helpful. So, that's just the flash without an icon. So that's, I all it forced flash, but the rest of the world calls it fill flash. Okay, the next option is no flash, or canceled flash. This is my favorite option. I have this on all my cameras, including my phone, all the time. And I rarely ever change it. And the reason we can see here. This is from a rehearsal of a ballet show, The Nutcracker, back home. And this is what happens with flash. It just goes poorly. So, do we think that the flash is actually reaching and impacting the stage and the dancers? No, right? We can see that they're lit by the stage lighting. What is, however, lit by the flash is the heads of the people in front of me. (laughs) And that's why it looks like, "Wow, nobody came to see the show, there's no one in the audience." Because it was a tech rehearsal, a dress rehearsal. So these are the show production staff sitting in front of me, and they gave me permission to come shoot this because I feel like this is the scenario that happens often for people, and I wanted to create it and capture it. So, we see their heads lit very nicely by the flash. So, all I did in this scene was cancel the flash. Now, we talked about the shooting modes in the previous segment, so we know that in auto mode, sometimes on some cameras you can't even turn the flash off. You can't cancel it, you can't force it, you just can't even touch it. So, this was shot in program mode because that allowed me to then go in and cancel the flash and get a much better result. So, you can see, and I hope it comes across on the monitor for folks at home too, but you can see that the heads are still there. It's not like I said, "Okay, leave, and now I'm going to take this photo." They are still there, but they're just not lit up from the flash. You can see them having some rim lighting from the stage lighting, but they're not lit from the flash and what do we notice too about the color? If we go back, the color's really different, right? So remember that, we're going to come and talk about color here shortly. But color is also affected by flash. And because in this scene we have the color of the stage lights as well as the color of the flash, and they are different, the camera can't deal with two different color situations at once. It has to pick one, and it can try to correct color for one situation, but it can't handle both at a time. So, we end up with the camera will always choose to match color with the flash if you're using flash. So, their heads look like normal color but the stage lighting is even more exaggerated and really weird looking because of that difference. So, we'll talk more about that shortly, but you'll notice then in this scene where the camera didn't have to deal with the flash, we have much healthier looking colors in this scene. Okay? Another scenario with flash, this is a terrible photo so I will warn you in advance. (laughs) Oh my gosh! It just looks so sad. So, this is a friend of mine's daughter and we saw in the previous segment when we talked about night portrait flash or mode we saw that flash can actually make scenes look darker. And that can happen even in broad daylight. So this, for example, was shot around 10 or 11 AM. There is plenty of sunshine actually in a window right behind me. But because the flash is firing, it goes out and bounces off of her and illuminates her, and then by contrast, the camera responds with the appropriate shutter speed and aperture and everything for her exposure, and by contrast then, it makes the background look really dark. So basically, the background and her were mostly the same, but then the flash went out and brought her to such a high level of brightness that the background got left behind. Literally, got left in the dark. (laughs) And so, it looks like I ran into her room in the middle of the night and was like "Bahhh, I'm going to take your picture!" And scares the heck out of her, right? So, here's the same scene now with no flash. And you can see there's plenty of light. The settings on the camera are all different. We can see we have a shallow depth of field now, but I already told you I like to shoot with a shallow depth of field. So, here we have a shallow depth of field but the lighting is great. It's a more even fall-off between her. I mean, she's slightly closer to the window than the wall behind her, but roughly it's the same. And so, she's no longer in a dark cave. I mean, that's just crazy, right? So, flash can actually make your pictures darker, which is a weird paradox in a situation like that. So, just be aware that that can happen. So, in cases like this, it's just better to not have the flash. And yes, that means that the camera or you may have to work a bit harder. That means ugh, the camera might have to get off the sofa and go crank up the ISO (laughs) in order to compensate for not having that flash. But that's okay, right? You can still get great results. Of course, that's not applicable in every situation. Some situations, you have to have flash. But there's better ways to do it beside a little on-camera forced flash. Yeah, anyway. Here's another example where it can just be a nice creative choice to not have flash. So, this is my husband, he gets pulled in to be a model for me a lot. So, this was taken at a fountain in Chicago and the camera was just put on auto and put on just, like a shot, it's a snapshot, right? Not a whole lot of thought went into it. Go, "Hey, go stand by the fountain, yay, we're in Chicago" photo. A much more exciting scene is simply canceling the flash, so, getting in whatever shooting mode will let you do that, usually something like program. And, I set the timer and yes, that's me that jumped in there. (laughs) Sometimes, people are like, "Who's that woman kissing your husband?" It's me, it's okay. It's me. So then I ran over and jumped in and we had this cool photo and it's a silhouette against the fountain lights. So, the light source is behind us, the camera is calculating the exposure for the fountain, and because there's no flash, then we're just left in the dark in this awesome silhouette. So, it's really cool, and this was taken in like, the program mode on my super old point-and-shoot with nothing fancy, not even a tripod, I just put it down on a little wall that was surrounding this fountain, and I put the timer on, and we'll talk about the timer shortly, and was able to get that shot. And I just think that's so much fun. Here's one last example of not having flash. And, this was taken on the beach, obviously, and this little guy had been running around past my camera many times. This was also taken with a point-and-shoot, and the reason it's relevant here is because of the shutter delay, right? On a point-and-shoot, there's a lot of time lag between when you press the button and when the picture actually happens. So, I'd been trying to capture him for quite a while. And he was kicking a ball around and playing and running, and I was just missing, like, everything I got was just crap. And finally, I think it got late and he was tired, so I had that going for me. And hungry probably, he's on his way home for dinner or something. So, he sort of was like, (sighs) "Okay, I'm going home." And he just slowly, like, made his way past me and I could tell this was my last chance. And thankfully, I got it, finally. And I had canceled the flash, but this would have been a situation where if the flash had fired, totally would have ruined it. And it probably wouldn't have, if I'd been in auto mode, I may have ended up with a shot like this by accident, really, because the camera would just measure all this light and be like, "Oh, no flash." So, this is kind of like, it's the same situation as my husband on the mountain, if we go back. It's the same exact situation as this, only in this situation I didn't want him as a silhouette, I wanted to see him. And in the situation on the beach, I want the silhouette. But if I don't cancel the flash, how knows what it's going to do. It would have probably not fired because of the backlight situation, but you never know. You never know at what point the scales would tip and the light would drop just enough that the camera would be like, "Okay, now I want to fire." And I didn't want to take that chance. So I made sure to have the flash off. And I just love that photo for some reason. The composition, I don't know. And the way he's walking and the blurry sand by his foot, I don't know, it's fun. So, couldn't chance that with flash. The other option, with red eye flash. Red eye reduction, so that's the picture of the lightning bolt with the little eyeball next to it. We've all seen this and it makes red eyes less, or go away. So, here's some terrible examples. I have a really hard time getting examples of red eye, because my family's more darker complected and it actually is related to the melanin in your system, believe it or not, so fair people get it more often, so I don't-- it's hard for me when I'm teaching, to be like, "I need red eye photos!" (laughs) So, this is actually my nephew, who happens to be pretty fair, and I like, had to sit on him and pin him down, and like, force the flash in his face to try and get this, so he wasn't very happy with me. (laughs) As you can see. But this was just normal flash without red eye reduction on the left, and then red eye reduction on the right. So, how does that work, and why does it work? Red eye is really just the actual reflection of like, blood vessels and stuff in the backs of your eyes and the flash goes in and comes back out, we're actually seeing red from just your body, and-- yeah, I know, right? So, what happens with red eye, the way that the flash reduces that look is it fires a few burst flashes before the actual flash and that constricts your pupils so that less of the actual flash can get in, and therefore you don't have it when it fires. But then you have everybody with shrunk pupils, so I don't know, maybe you...whatever. I mean, I guess it's better than red eye. So, that's how that works. So, you just want to be sure when you're using it, you know, if you're taking a group photo or something, I guess it's nice to tell them, because people sometimes see the first bursts and then they try to scatter already. Sometimes it takes a minute before it really fires. So, just know that that's how it works. It sends out a series of flashes but it's only that last one that's the actual moment when the picture's being taken. Okay, and then our last flash option, this is the same thing as the night portrait mode or scene that we talked about in the previous segment. Where I took that example photo of that couple at Grand Central Station. This is the exact same thing, only they don't call it a scene. Some cameras tuck this same feature in with the flash setting. So, here in the flash settings, if this is where your camera puts it, is called slow sync flash, or night time flash, sometimes it'll say. So, it might have a picture of a star or something with it, but the principle is the exact same. So, again, here's my husband. (laughs) And we are downtown, back before we had kids, and this is him just at night with the normal flash. So, he's well-exposed, the background is, of course, dark. Here is the exact same scene, the exact same flash, the exact same everything, except the one thing that makes night time flash or slow sync flash different is the dragging of that shutter like we talked about in the last segment. So, the shutter speed is the only thing that changed between these two photos. And it didn't even change by a lot. I want to say again, it was like, one-thirtieth to one-fifteenth or something like that. I mean, it was like, the next setting over. That's about it. So it really doesn't take a lot. It's not like we're dropping it down from one-five thousandth to ten seconds or something. Very subtle. But, that's all it takes. So, the flash, you don't have to be afraid of it, but I like to keep it off most of the time unless you really need it, in which case, you're usually forcing it, or filling with it, or you're doing like a night time situation where you're dragging the shutter a little bit. Do you guys have any questions about flash before we move to our next teacher? Yes, Jose. When you mentioned about the different lights, are flashes kind of like daylight balance? Yes. So, the other lights, that's what you have to kind of tweak it a little bit? You have to tweak. So, that is taking us into our very next thing, we're going to talk about white balance next. But this is a great example to show, and that's a good timing with your question. So, how would you deal with that? So, as you can see here, his color looks alright, but the street scene looks pretty green. Well, that is because the color temperature, which we'll discuss in a minute, of the lights is different than that of the flash. And like I said, the camera will always go for the flash, so that means your background when you use this feature will most likely be a weird color. Slightly. And the only way to avoid that, keeping everything else the same, is to either change the light bulbs in all the scene, which, good luck with that, or you can put what's called a color gel on your flash. And then the idea is you gel the flash to match whatever color the lights are going to be in your background and then change the camera to a different white balance and then it would all be the same. So, you're essentially messing up the flash color (laughs) to match the background so it can all be fixed with your white balance. Okay? So, it gets a little bit tricky, it's simple to do, but then you have to have a gel with you, so... When I shoot weddings, I always have gels with me, but when I'm out, like, just for fun, obviously... I suppose some people might keep some color gels in their pocket if they're really hard-core about it, but I only have them with me when I would be working. So, at a wedding, I gel all my flashes almost all the time. At the reception especially, you're in usually ballrooms that's lit with Tungsten lights, so I gel my flash on the camera as well as my off-camera flashes, everything I turn orange because the lights in the room look orange. And that way I can set the white balance to correct for all of it. So, let's talk about white balance.

Class Materials

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Bonus Video - Shooting In Natural Light HD
New Camera Setup

Ratings and Reviews

Kate Ambers

Khara is awesome! She really breaks down how the camera works, photography terminology, and technique. She does it all with a fun and entertaining personality and really makes it easy to understand what you are learning! I love this course!!! So worth it!

Holly Cooper

Loved this course and have recommended it to a friend who is looking to purchase his first DSLR. This course is perfect for beginners or someone who is self taught and who has picked a few bits up along the way; Khara then puts all these little bits of information together. I feel like the pieces have come together for me and I have taken my best/favourite photographs after watching these videos. Thank you CL and Thank you Khara x


I’ve taken a number of excellent courses from Creative Live, and this very thoughtfully organized, well taught class took me from “I love photography but I’ll never get how to do it” to “wow I get it!” It created a huge shift (finally!) for me. There is an intelligent simplicity that really does make for lightbulb moments. I’m extremely grateful for this class. Now I can go back and watch the others courses again and they will make much more sense and I can apply what I learned here.

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