Turn Down Your Flash Power!Last night, I was in a dark nightclub, so I was taking my photographs using a flash inserted into my digital SLR flash hotshoe. I was working with another photographer who was using a Canon Digital Rebel, while I was armed with my Nikon D200.
It was interesting to compare the entry-level Canon with my D200, because the entry-level Canon is missing a bunch of features which actually make it harder to do more than take snapshots--no flash exposure compensation, no rear curtain sync are two things that I immediately discovered upon playing with his camera. Even the Nikon D50 has flash exposure comp and rear curtain sync. Canon sort of added features to the Rebel XT, but the flash exposure comp is buried in a menu.
Getting back to shooting in the nightclub, so anyway, I started off taking photos using the default flash exposure settings, but I noticed that I was getting pictures that clearly appeared to be "flash" exposures with bright highlights, hard shadows, and skin that was too light.
Luckily for me, the D200 has a setting on the camera body to lower the flash power, which I did, by a -0.7 to 1.0 stop lower. The results changed the character of the photo--from harsh flash photos, I now had photos with the look of much more natural lighting. The lower flash power setting also allows more of the ambient light to be seen, as it's not washed out by the overwhelming flash at the default setting.
And when shooting fill flash in daylight, turning down the flash power is important too, or your shots won't come out right. I think daylight fill should look more natural, so that it's hard to tell a flash was used.
Another trick I did last night was to use a slower shutter speed and rear curtain sync. This allowed me to get some cool images of people dancing and showing movement, yet they're frozen by the flash that goes off when the rear shutter curtain begins closing.
But I digress--the point I want to make is that all too often, it's easy to just accept the camera defaults on exposures or flash power, with a result that looks artificial, amateurish, or contrived. The photographer must remember to take control of the camera to make the camera a tool, instead of being a button-pushing primate relying on a camera to make exposure decisions.