If you read much about photography and get heavily “into” photography, you quickly “learn” that using your flash on the camera is “bad” and that using your flash at full power without some kind of light modifier is “bad”. And a lot of times, the image quality is better if you DO move the flash off the line of axis of the lens and if you use some sort of flash compensation and flash modifier (diffuser/reflector/something).
I thought I’d share an example of where I preferred on-camera flash at near full power. Our family went out looking for fossils recently – during the middle of the day. I left my camera in the truck when we first went looking for fossils, but after I made a trip back to the truck, I brought my camera and single lens with me. As I changed lenses and took the flash bracket off the camera, I stuffed the flash in my pocket – just in case I wanted to use it. I left the flash bracket and flash cord in the truck (and since I took the Nikon D3 body, I didn’t have a pop-up flash to use as a master so that my SB-800 could be used in slave mode).
As my wife & daughter sifted a shovel full of material in the creek, I thought I’d take a picture. Now, it’s 10:30 in the morning on a sunny day. The light is VERY dappled looking down the creekbed – some areas of shadow and some areas of bright sun – unfortunately, one of the area s of bright sun was on the whitish limestone parent material of the creek bank making up a large portion of the background.
The first 3 shots below were shot in RAW, optimized in my normal image workflow, and were taken from the same position within an 8 second time frame. The only real difference in the 3 shots is the use of flash.
I took a test shot, and saw that matrix metering was working fairly well – no significant “blinkies” or over-exposure, but my family in the shade was pretty well hidden. I might have been able to add some more light by using exposure compensation or lengthening the time the shutter was open, but doing that would result in overexposing the background.
Nikon D3, Nikkor 28-85 @ 50 mm, f/4, 1/100th second, ISO 200, handheld, existing light, slight crop.
I realized then that I needed a little fill light, so I turned on my flash, set the flash compensation to around minus 2, flipped the built-in diffuser down, and shot again.
Diffused Fill Flash
Nikon D3, Nikkor 28-85 @ 50 mm, f/4, 1/125th second, ISO 200, handheld, on-camera fill flash at -2 with diffuser, slight crop.
I liked that shot a little better, I could see more detail in their faces and the sifting pan. There were no areas that were overexposed, but I still wanted more light. Looking at the scene, I realized that I needed to treat this situation like they were backlit by the sun (even though it was overhead & to the right), so I flipped the built-in diffuse back up, and dialed exposure compensation to either 0 or -1/3 and shot again. I liked that shot best of all. There was much more color & detail in my subjects, and better colors in their surroundings as well. So, in this case, a flash right on top of the camera at near full power gave me not only the shot that I liked best, but also the shot that took the least amount of time to optimize. Just goes to show, that the “rules” of photography are often guidelines. Look at the lighting of the situation you are trying to shoot, and figure out how you can use things at your disposal (flashes, diffusers, reflectors, etc.) to create the shot you want.
On Camera Flash at Near Full Power
Nikon D3, Nikkor 28-85 @ 50 mm, f/4, 1/125th second, ISO 200, handheld, on-camera flash at – 1/3, slight crop.
*In addition to looking at the colors of their clothing, look at the color that was revealed in the sycamore leaf floating in the creek on the left-hand vertical one-third line.
Just to make this blog post complete, I thought I’d share a few shots of the fossils we collected; these shots were all taken on black velvet with a ring flash for light.
Hamulus worm castings
The Hamulus worm would have lived in the hollow in the center of these castings on the sea floor.
The shark teeth were, of course, the favorite finds of the morning.
Extinct oyster (this shell is about 9” long and weighs about 2 pounds).