Friday, September 3, 2010

When should I use my flash?

When should I use my flash? Seems like a simple question, but it's not. If there is enough light, I favour available light photography. If my flash is a micro unit built into my point-and-shoot camera, I will push my luck, and my ISO, and stay with available light photography as long as possible. I prefer noisy pictures to flatly lit ones, but that is a person preference.

Handheld umbrella bounce.
When I worked at a paper, the answer was different. Back then, I had a powerful strobe with a swivel head and I always carried a small umbrella. Holding my umbrella behind and off to one side, I bounced the flash into the middle of the umbrella. Using the centre pole of the umbrella as a pointer indicating the path of the bounced light, I would aim the umbrella at my subject. (Check the dressing room picture of a model shot prior to hitting the stage at a local fashion show.)

In white painted rooms with white walls and ceiling, one can forgo the umbrella and simply bounce the flash into a ceiling/two wall corner. Either the corner trick or the handheld umbrella approach will allow one to shoot with at a much smaller f/stop and thus get cleaner, sharper images. This is so important when striving for the best images for publication.

Yesterday was my granddaughter's first birthday. She was one-year-old. To shoot with flash or not was the question. I went without and I'll show you one of my images and let you decide if I make the right decision.

First, I shot the image with my Canon P90 set to available light photography. This automatically ups the ISO and changes the way the camera treats the sensor pixels. At the available light setting, the camera marries adjacent pixels for lower noise at high ISO settings. This cuts the image size form 10MB to 5MB but I can put up with that.

Original Image
Cropped and enhanced
I took the resulting images into Photoshop Elements and enhanced the images using the automatic colour correction feature. I am testing Elements at the moment and that is why I used this program.

Next, I selected parts of the image that I felt still needed some colour correction and made some gross corrections using Photoshop and Curves. I always give my selections a bold amount of feathering. Bold approaches worked in the old wet darkroom and so I use this same approach in the new electronic darkroom.

With the image looking quite good colour wise, I set the endpoints in Photoshop Levels. Hold the Alt key down while moving the endpoint triangles. When moving the white point the image will go white and only the areas with blown out whites will be shown; When moving the black point the image will go black and only the areas with plugged blacks will be shown. With Mac running Photoshop, hold the Option key.

When done, I gave it a small amount of Saturation (8), resized the image for the Net (7 inches deep at 72 dpi) and lastly I sharpened it using Unsharp Mask. (Amount: 160%, Radius: 2 pixels, Threshold: 3 levels)

I confess, I tweaked the overall contrast with one last visit to Photoshop Curves. I grabbed the curve at the shadow end and therefore put a bit more weight to opening up the shadows but it not a big deal for most of us. The resulting image looks good on screen and will make fine prints for the family scrapbook.

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