The number one tip professional photographers give those learning how to take their photography to the next level is to turn off your camera's flash. If you’ve ever caught a modelling reality show you might wonder why this is the case when so many of these high end shoots appear to be using flash. What isn’t explained is that in most cases the flash being used on the sets is professional fill lighting, which is quite different from the automatic flash on any camera from an iPhone to a DSLR. Learning how to use natural light instead of relying on your flash will instantly improve your photos and will produce better photos on canvas without spending a ton of money on pro level lighting equipment!
A camera's pop-up flash is the culprit for many unflattering and two dimensional pictures. If you are wanting more dimension and depth in your photos then do not trust that little pop-up flash. The same can be said for many point and shoot cameras. There is a mode that turns the flash off. Find it and use it as often as possible. It looks like a lightning bolt with a line through it. The problem with on-board flashes is two fold. First is that they are on the same axis as your camera lens. That means that the flash is firing straight at your subject. Great if you just want a quick snapshot of something just for the sake of lighting it up, but pretty bad if you want some directional lighting (like window light). Second is that the pop-up flash has a mission. It is trying to make whatever it is lighting up the same brightness every single time. On some DSLR's you might have a little control over this, but overall your photos all end up with a two dimensional look. Look for natural light that will help shape and flatter your subject. I mentioned window light already. That is quite possibly the best way to learn about how light can shape your subject.
Now that you know a little more about the detrimental impacts of flash, it’s time to look at the benefits of natural light. Human eyes have developed to prefer natural light and the warm tones that it creates, in life and in photos alike. The "naturalness" of photos taken using natural light makes us instinctively prefer these types of images, especially since natural light helps smooth skin tones and creates shadows and highlights that look perfectly regular.
Timing is everything when you are aiming to maximize the natural light available in your photos. The best times to take photos using natural light are in the mornings and in the afternoons. At these times sunlight is strong and warm, with an angle that creates flattering shadows. Between about 11 AM and 2 PM however, the sun’s direct overhead position can cause the same types of photographic issues as flash: deep, unflattering shadows and highlighting of tonal differences in skin and other subjects.
While you can’t control the sun and can’t always control the timing of the perfect photo opportunity, there are a few things you can do to swing the natural light advantage in your favor. Learn how to manage your camera on manual settings so that you can control the amount of light in your photos, which is helpful to increasing or decreasing the natural light as conditions require. Take the time study your camera’s ISO capabilities as well; higher ISOs can help in low light situations. Finally, turn off indoor lights when possible and open as many curtains and blinds as you can to let the light in for indoor photos.
This article is written for Canvas Press. To find out more about Canvas Press’products visit www.canvaspress.com.