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The holidays are upon us and cameras are everywhere! I just taught a lighting course to students in the photography/art department at the University of Washington. For me one of the most exciting parts about teaching lighting is how to use one’s flash outdoors (and indoors). Many people, including some accomplished photographers, are surprised at how effective the flash can be when mixed with ambient light. This technique can be used on many point-and-shoot cameras (see below) and all higher-end cameras. Here is how it works:

If you shoot a photo outside and your subject looks a bit flat and/or the background looks washed out, you can fix it with just a bit of experimenting.

Start by setting your camera on anything except “auto.” In these non-auto modes you can access the exposure compensation and your flash compensation controls in your menu. You will see (with a little experimentation and maybe a glance at your owner’s manual) that you can dial the exposure up or down. Dialing it up will make your overall shot lighter. Dialing it down will make it darker. If you make it darker, you will bring more drama to the photo when you add your flash. With the flash you can create a well-lit subject with a dramatic background. If you bend your knees a bit so you are shooting upward you can get a dramatic sense of the sky (in my sample, the sky is darkened by about two stops).

If you are shooting an interior, you can use your exposure compensation to expose for the room (instead of a starkly-lit photo in which the subjects are illuminated and the background is dark). Then use the flash to “clean up” the subjects–making them look beautifully lit in an interior environment. As I tell all my students: experiment, experiment, experiment! One of the great benefits of shooting digitally.

A few of the point-and-shoot cameras with exposure and flash compensation are: Nikon’s Coolpix 7000, Canon G12, Canon 595 and Panasonic LX5.

If you are interested in learning more about lighting, please contact me. It is one of my favorite things to teach.

Happy Holidays and good lighting to you!

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