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Pop-Up Flash; A Convenient “Taste Of Light” Bookmark and Share

This issue is oriented to photographers who are serious about their photography, and who want to learn to use flash creatively. However, I know there are a lot of people who are very happy with their camera and who aren’t interested in buying sophisticated flash units. Admittedly, there is a lot to be said for being able to use one unit for both exposure and illumination. In this section I will address the issue of pop-up flash units and tell you how to get the most out of these small and convenient types of flash.

Pros And Cons
First off, I’ll make the case for and against using a pop-up flash. The advantages of a pop-up flash are many. It adds virtually no weight to the camera; it’s always available for use; it doesn’t add any bulk; it doesn’t cost anything extra; and it’s extremely convenient. You can push a button and it’s ready.

On the other side of the ledger, a flash that is built into a camera is limited in terms of power simply because of its small size. That means that subjects beyond 10-15 ft won’t be affected very much by the additional light. Assuming that you are already using a large lens aperture, only if you raise the ISO can you extend the effective distance of the flash. The down side of that, of course, is that you increase the digital noise. Therefore, shoot close to your subjects. When I took image (#1) using a pop-up flash, I was only about 5 ft away from the boys.


Small built-in flashes are always positioned right next to the viewfinder (#2). This can cause red-eye, an undesirable red color seen in the retina of a subject’s eyes (#3). It occurs because the light emanates from a position right next to the lens axis, and when it reflects from the back of the eyes into the camera lens, the blood-filled capillaries make the color of the pupils look red. In animals, this is usually pale green. To help prevent this, some cameras emit a series of pre-flashes designed to minimize red-eye by causing the pupil to constrict before the main flash fires and the picture is taken, thus making the area of red smaller. This can be effective, but it’s distracting to the subject and often confusing for kids (and adults).

All Photos © 2010, Jim Zuckerman, All Rights Reserved

Another disadvantage is that a pop-up flash can’t be pointed in any direction other than straight ahead. On-camera flash is quite harsh and many people find it to be unflattering for portraits. All in all, built-in flash limits your ability to be creative with flash and to control how shadows fall on and behind the subject.


The news, however, is not all bad, and in fact many pros will resort to the built-in flash when just a “taste of light” is required. If you are shooting fairly close to a subject in a dark environment the built-in flash can be a lifesaver. Without the flash, the shutter speed would be too slow to hand hold the camera, thus the pictures would turn out to be blurred. An example is the Kachina doll I photographed in a museum (#4). Fortunately, the doll was displayed against black, and in the dim interior lighting I never could have taken a sharp picture without a flash. Similarly, the ginger on the jungle floor in Papua New Guinea (#5) was hopelessly dark, and it was impossible to get a sharp picture unless either a flash or a tripod was used.



Second, the extra light can fill in dark areas of a picture so the effect of unattractive shadows is less obvious. This helps to preserve some of the detail in those shadow areas. In the comparison photos of (#6 and #7), you can see that the late afternoon sunlight created a black shadow under the brim of the hat, but with the additional light from the flash the eyes of Grayci, my young model, were revealed. Notice that the highlights on her skin weren’t affected as much as the shadows. Grayci was only a few feet away from me when I photographed her.


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