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Thread: Photos with Built-in Flash (not asking for miracles)

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    Photos with Built-in Flash (not asking for miracles)

    A friend of mine is organizing a charity party for breast cancer and asked me to cover the night
    the thing is since I got my dslr, I've never used flash (built in or external) even once.
    Considering what I generally shoot, I have absolutely no reasons (and money) to offer myself a flash.
    That is why I'll have to use the popup flash for the pics. The lighting will be very much like a nightclub environment (few spot lights and that's it..).
    I had a few questions and hoped that flash gurus could suggest me some tips to get the best (even if its limited) out of my pop up flash.

    1- AF or MF? The 'pre-focus-flash' burst is so annoying, AF is very long to acquire and my xsi often hunt.. what do you suggest?

    2- WB to Auto or Flash?

    Please tell me if I wrong, but I thought about using a slow shutter (1/10-1/30) and ~ISO400 or 800 with 2nd curtain flash to get the subject as well as the background lights
    also, I tried putting a white card in front of the flash to bounce it off the ceiling which worked very well, except I was at home. The party room's ceiling might be much higher and not white, so is there a way to resolve this?

    I might actually end up DIYing something like this :
    www.youtube.com/watch?v=vkuE4ll-dwU
    which looks like fairly acceptable

    any advices will be greatly appreciated!
    thanks in advance!
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    Re: Photos with Built-in Flash (not asking for miracles)

    Often the best solution is to just put the camera in "Auto" mode and "go for it" ... it won't give an ideal result, but it's probably going to be better than other options unless your experienced at doing this kind of thing.

    Some "food for thought" ...

    - If you use Av mode then the camera will slow the shutter to correctly expose the background - even if this means camera shake ruins the shot. Auto mode won't let it drop below 1/60th, which gives you a fighting chance.

    - I'd stick with Auto-focus ... yes, the AF assist is annoying, but you're really between a rock and a hard place. You'll want to have the aperture as wide open as possible to let in as much light as possible - to get the shutterspeed as high as possible ... and that means minimal depth-of-field - which means minimal room for error when focusing.

    - I'd leave WB on Auto - if you put it on flash then you'll have mixed-temperature lighting and it may get it wrong. Personally, I'd shoot RAW, and try to get a few white objects in the shot as the evening progresses, but again, it may still get it wrong.

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    Re: Photos with Built-in Flash (not asking for miracles)

    That's pretty clever stuff; spends thousands on an L type and saves by making a tin foil diffuser. The GN for my flash is 13m at 100 iso 50mm I think, not absolutely sure but I don't think the diffuser will work on my camera.

    I'm not an expert with flash but I would try flash white balance and have subjects close maybe -1 fev but quick change of setting if that is too dark with a light or two in the background.

    I haven't been to a disco for a long time but seem to remember they are crowded and with very bright flashing strobes; maybe you can use them to aid your photo.

    If you shoot in RAW you can adjust white balance more easily.

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    Re: Photos with Built-in Flash (not asking for miracles)

    Thanks for the inputs, the event is in two weeks so I'll have time to play around and test your tips
    ill let you know how it goes

    *of course, I've always shot in RAW

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    Re: Photos with Built-in Flash (not asking for miracles)

    I don't do a lot of flash photos, except macro images of bugs etc and I generally use the same principles for party scenes as insect life.

    All too often, I find that when I try to get clever with Tv or Av priority settings I end up making a mess of things, so either full auto flash or full manual works best; and I usually get better results by going manual.

    Full manual settings, but auto focus if there is sufficient light; decide on the best shutter speed which may be around 1/200 if you have moving subjects. Then select a suitable aperture to fit the scene, ideally say F8 or F11 but less in poor light; and select an ISO which gives those results. If you end up with too high an ISO you will have to sacrifice one of the other settings.

    Do some test shots and check the results with the histogram. Adjust the exposure compensation as you go for those more challenging shots. Or adjust the flash output if you think that would work better.

    And saying 'I just want to calibrate my camera and your light levels are just right' can give some wonderfully relaxed poses.
    Last edited by Geoff F; 19th December 2009 at 06:13 PM. Reason: extra paragraph

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    Re: Photos with Built-in Flash (not asking for miracles)

    Quote Originally Posted by Geoff F View Post
    I don't do a lot of flash photos, except macro images of bugs etc and I generally use the same principles for party scenes as insect life.

    All too often, I find that when I try to get clever with Tv or Av priority settings I end up making a mess of things, so either full auto flash or full manual works best; and I usually get better results by going manual.

    Full manual settings, but auto focus if there is sufficient light; decide on the best shutter speed which may be around 1/200 if you have moving subjects. Then select a suitable aperture to fit the scene, ideally say F8 or F11 but less in poor light; and select an ISO which gives those results. If you end up with too high an ISO you will have to sacrifice one of the other settings.

    Do some test shots and check the results with the histogram. Adjust the exposure compensation as you go for those more challenging shots. Or adjust the flash output if you think that would work better.

    And saying 'I just want to calibrate my camera and your light levels are just right' can give some wonderfully relaxed poses.
    YEH and action requires a slow speed; I think the strobes are going to be brighter than your flash, but clubs are all different and I would love to take a photo in one. But like I said it is crowded and you will find it difficult. Temperature 5600 kelvin on RAW.

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    Re: Photos with Built-in Flash (not asking for miracles)

    +1 on my list of tips to try

    I did some research and found many people using these settings:

    Quote Originally Posted by POTN Forums
    My 2 Cents for what i do

    - Be sure to shoot in Manual Mode
    - Shutter speeds from 1/10 - 1/4 of a second
    - Aperture from 4 - 6
    - ISO 400 +++
    - Flash is a must

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    Re: Photos with Built-in Flash (not asking for miracles)

    Those shutter speeds are way too low for handholding and would require a static subject and a tripod.

    I would advise a minimum shutter speed of 1/60 sec for handheld static subjects and faster if your target is moving. But most camera flashes can't cope with speeds above 1/250.

    Aperture depends on the lens you are using. Ideally something around the middle settings will give the best performance but you may have to open it up in poor light. If possible, try to avoid using a fully open lens.

    Keep your ISO as low as practicable but you may be OK upto ISO 800; although anything above ISO 400 does risk some 'noise' in the shadows.

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    Re: Photos with Built-in Flash (not asking for miracles)

    you know what?
    that might sound silly, but after many hours of trying the different ways to diffuse a built in flash, I finally came to the point of shopping a second hand flash unit.

    Came upon an interesting offer: over two years old 580 EX1 + Gary Fong diffuser. Is it too old, or flashes have lifespan as long as lenses?

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    Re: Photos with Built-in Flash (not asking for miracles)

    Quote Originally Posted by Zephyrize View Post
    you know what?
    that might sound silly, but after many hours of trying the different ways to diffuse a built in flash, I finally came to the point of shopping a second hand flash unit.

    Came upon an interesting offer: over two years old 580 EX1 + Gary Fong diffuser. Is it too old, or flashes have lifespan as long as lenses?
    Flash tubes DO wear out, but in my experience, you'd have to try pretty hard to do it. So if it's not been used for commercial shooting and the price is good then I'd say "go for it". No guarantees of course, but probably worth the small gamble.

    If you do get the Lightsphere, let us know and we'll give you a few tips on using it.

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    Re: Photos with Built-in Flash (not asking for miracles)

    PS: Diffusing a pop-up flash is a bit of a gimmick in my opinion - diffusion is more about having a large light source close to the subject than it is having a slightly larger lightsource that's still several meters away from the subject.

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    Re: Photos with Built-in Flash (not asking for miracles)

    Quote Originally Posted by Colin Southern View Post
    PS: Diffusing a pop-up flash is a bit of a gimmick in my opinion - diffusion is more about having a large light source close to the subject than it is having a slightly larger lightsource that's still several meters away from the subject.
    and surely, the more you spread it, the less far it goes and that's not even considering the transmissive losses of the material

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    Re: Photos with Built-in Flash (not asking for miracles)

    Quote Originally Posted by Dave Humphries View Post
    and surely, the more you spread it, the less far it goes and that's not even considering the transmissive losses of the material
    I think that reflective & transmissive losses must attenuate things - but I'm not so sure about the effect of pure "spreading"; would 4x 15 watt lightbulbs in a square arrangement go the same distance as 1x 60 watt?

    Thinking about it, the likes of the lightsphere probably really shouldn't be called "diffusers" - I think that they don't so much "diffuse the light" leaving the unit as they do "spread the light all around the room", which is kinda-sorta what's doing the diffusing.

    Thought of the day anyway.

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    Re: Photos with Built-in Flash (not asking for miracles)

    So what you guys are saying is that, really, the best way of 'diffusing' light is to bounce it off a large surface with appropriate colour? So, what if I do not have access to such surfaces (in the middle of a high roofed hall)? Is the external flash able to produce a nice diffused 'soft-skin' look?

    oh and finally settled on getting a 580 EXII from BHPhoto since I don't plan to change flash unit for the years to come.
    I have absolute peace of mind buying second hand lenses, but as you said Colin, with flashes, we never know.

    As for diffusing, would the simple rectangular 'bounce dome' enough or should I get those Gary Fong lightsphere?
    Last edited by Zephyrize; 21st December 2009 at 02:38 PM.

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    Re: Photos with Built-in Flash (not asking for miracles)

    Quote Originally Posted by Zephyrize View Post
    So what you guys are saying is that, really, the best way of 'diffusing' light is to bounce it off a large surface with appropriate colour?
    There are a number of "tricks", but if you don't have the luxury of being able to setup a makeshift studio (ie you have to shoot "on the go - journalist style") then yes.

    So, what if I do not have access to such surfaces (in the middle of a high roofed hall)? Is the external flash able to produce a nice diffused 'soft-skin' look?
    Diffusion is all about the size of the lightsource. A small light (eg flash) shot from a distance - is very harsh. If you pop a small diffuser (eg Stofen) on an external flash and point it towards your subject, it really doesn't increase the size of the lightsource - and thus really doesn't make any difference. If you put the dome on a Gary Fong lightsphere - point that at your subject (because you can't use a bounce) then it makes the light source a bit bigger again and may make a SMALL difference.

    Where diffusion REALLY kicks in is when you can get a hand-held diffuser or softbox REALLY close to the subject and flash that with your 580 so that the lightsource goes from being a couple of square inches a long way away to perhaps a square foot that's only a very short difference away; this makes a MASSIVE difference, but - unfortunately - it's probably also impractical in "real time" situations.

    The bottom line is that many find themselves betewwen a "rock and a hard place". In your situation I would put 580EX II on camera - Lightsphere on top - camera on auto - and just do the best you can. You certainly won't get studio-quality results, but they may be fine for what you're after.

    As for diffusing, would the simple rectangular 'bounce dome' enough or should I get those Gary Fong lightsphere?
    Both come into their "forte" with bounce shots. With the smaller Stofen-type you CAN get a good bounce - but - you have to get the angle right. To be honest, in my opinion, Stofens really don't do a lot. The Lightsphere works differently; If you're doing a bounce shot then you keep the dome off and it'll throw about 80% of the light up and about 20% forward (tends to light up the room). With direct shots (eg no suitable ceiling or outside) you put the dome on, but unfortunately the laws of physics still apply. You'll often read in advertisements that "you can create studio-quality lighting" with these types of things, but trust me -- they WON'T complete very well against a large studio softbox (I'll post some examples over the next few days if I get a chance to show you).

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    Re: Photos with Built-in Flash (not asking for miracles)

    One of the assignments I give my students is to hold a thin piece of material over the flash unit. Experiment with different colo(u)rs, materials and thicknesses.

    Great fun.

    Pops

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    Re: Photos with Built-in Flash (not asking for miracles)

    Quote Originally Posted by PopsPhotos View Post
    One of the assignments I give my students is to hold a thin piece of material over the flash unit. Experiment with different colo(u)rs, materials and thicknesses.

    Great fun.

    Pops
    Hi Pops,

    Something else to get them to do if you have the time is to use a BIG sheet of white paper (or equivalent) - keep the same distance between the flash and subject - and get them to see how the light gets a zillion times softer as the paper gets closer to the subject ... a good lesson on diffusing.

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    Re: Photos with Built-in Flash (not asking for miracles)

    We've done that and had subjects hold a sheet of paper below camera view line, angled toward their face, slightly.

    A fun one is when I erect my projection screen and also hang my white backdrop in another area of the classroom. A picture against the glass beaded screen looks so much different from the one against the stark white backdrop.

    Pops

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    Re: Photos with Built-in Flash (not asking for miracles)

    Very informative advices, folks! I appreciate

    The item is shipped, but didn't get any diffuser with the flash; I'll learn to use the flash first, then I could see what I really need.

    I'll play with it a few days once it arrives, and post some results, perhaps you could suggest some improvement

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    Re: Photos with Built-in Flash (not asking for miracles)

    Quote Originally Posted by Zephyrize View Post

    I'll play with it a few days once it arrives, and post some results, perhaps you could suggest some improvement
    I'll look forward to it

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