How To Avoid Flash Blowout :: Digital Photo Secrets

How To Avoid Flash Blowout

by David Peterson 4 comments

Flash blowout is an inevitable problem for anyone with a basic point-and-shoot or entry model digital SLR. Because you don't have many settings that allow you to control the intensity of the flash coming out of your camera, the flash is oftentimes too bright for the situation you are trying to photograph. Add in the fact that many point-and-shoot models don't allow you to zoom in that far, and you end up too close to your subjects to reduce the effect of your flash.


So what's a budding photographer supposed to do? The following tips won't make flash photography as easy as owning a professional setup, but they will help you innovate in tricky situations. Try these out and see if you can't beat the flash blowout blues once and for all.

Zoom In And Crop Your Photos

There's a reason your images are too bright. You're too close to your subject. I know you need to get close to your subject to fill the frame (you've been paying attention, haven't you?), but it gets to be problem when your camera's flash destroys the image. Here's what you need to do.

Take a few steps away from your subject and zoom in as much as you can. Try to fill the frame with your subject's face, but realize that you will probably have to do some cropping in Photoshop or another paint program later on. That's fine because most new point-and-shoot cameras have plenty of megapixels for resolution. You should be able to do quite a bit of cropping without losing any of the important details.

Try To Adjust The Settings On Your Flash

Some point-and-shoot cameras and digital SLRs will allow you to make some small adjustments to the intensity of your flash. Go ahead and play with these, trying to reduce the flash as much as possible. The basic idea is this. The more you can reduce your flash, the closer you can get to your subjects without destroying your colors and turning everything white.

If You Can, Try To Increase The Light Nearby

Just turning a few lights on can stop flash blowout in its tracks. You won't have to stand nearly as close to your subjects to get the flash to work properly. Just try to reposition your subject somewhere near a bright source of light. You can then use your flash as it was properly intended - to eliminate unwanted shadows and improve the overall lighting in the situation.

The following goes without saying, but it's important to mention anyway. Always be courteous when you want to turn on a few light at someone else's house. Not everybody is as keen on this as you might be. Get permission, use the lights for a little while, and then turn them off so everyone can enjoy the party.

Experiment With Bouncing Your Flash Off Of Some White Cards Or Mirrors

Not too many people know about this, but it can produce some pretty professional looking results. Instead of simply aiming your flash directly at your subjects, bring along a white card and try to bounce your onboard flash off of it. This dampens the flash, spreads it out, and makes your subjects look like they are being photographed in a more natural light.

I've found that this works best when I am in a corner and my subjects are directly in front of me. The corner reflects the light very efficiently, producing an even illumination all around. Of course, all of this requires practice, and no two corners are alike. Differently colored walls return different kinds of light when you bounce a flash off of them. It pays to spend some time experimenting before you go to the party.


Diffuse Your Flash

It also helps to spread out your flash and make it less intense by using a semi-transparent white material that you place in front of it. A surprising variety of materials will work just fine. One of my favorites is a single square of toilet paper. Just place it over your flash and watch the magic. The light from your flash will look much more natural.

There's another thing I like about this approach. You can vary the intensity of your flash by using thinner or thicker materials for your diffuser. Try a paper towel instead of using a toilet paper square. Try two toilet paper squares stacked on top of one another. Experimentation will only lead to better photographs. It's like I always say. If you can't control your flash from the inside, control it from the outside!

I can't wait to see a huge improvement in your night time photos. Send a few of them my way, and tell me which tricks you used to get them to turn out. If any of you are experimenting with bouncing your flash or using different diffusers, let me know about them.

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Comments

  1. Linda Bonskowski says:

    Aha! Going to a baby shower tomorrow out of town. Imagine the comments when I bring out the toilet paper! LOL Have you tried a coffee filter? Just wondering how that might work. I'll try it and find out! :)

  2. Heinz says:

    I am a enhusiastic reader of your tips to get bether piuctures and since I do that learnet how to do bether. A big THANKS to you Heinz

  3. Vance Ingham says:

    I normally bounce off the ceiling using my D90 Nikon Camera, and using a 28mm - 105mm lens with dedicated top seated flash which works very
    well in our unit or in the Retirement Village Community Centre where I take quite a few photographs of various events.

    Cheers

    Vance Ingham

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Difficulty:
Beginner
Length:
6 minutes
About David Peterson
David Peterson is the creator of Digital Photo Secrets, and the Photography Dash and loves teaching photography to fellow photographers all around the world. You can follow him on Twitter at @dphotosecrets or on Google+.