How can I get a better background in flash-lit pictures?
We’re often asked for flash photography tips to take flash photographs without the usual glary white faces looming out of the darkness. Turning down the flash power (flash exposure compensation, which most cameras can do) or even sticking your thumb in front of it
On a photography courses for the Avon and Somerset Probation Service, we got the hang of this using a handy fire extinguisher! It’s the most useful of our flash photography tips.
How it normally looks with flash
Standard rubbish flash photo, using the on-camera flash in auto mode. The camera chose 1/60th and f3.5 at 400 ISO.
The way to make this picture work better is to gather the light from behind the subject. So entering settings to give a longer shutter speed will allow more of the background to be seen:
How it could look, using the pop up flash on a Nikon D90, nothing fancy!
1/13th of a second at f1.8, at 400 ISO, again using the on-camera flash. Four times as much time for the background light to register.
The easiest way to do this is to turn off the flash, set the camera to A and meter the shot, noting the shutter speed the camera wants to use. Then go to M, and enter this shutter speed and aperture, turn the flash on and take the picture. The shutter speed may be low, but if the subject is only lit by the flash it will come out clearly. The blurry background, caused by the longer shutter speed will not be noticed in the general background blur.
Give it a go, it’s easier to do than explain! It’s a technique called “Dragging the Shutter.” Our American cousins call it “Pop and Burn.” The clever bit is to ensure that the foreground thing is only lit by the flash. Of all the flash photography tips we know, this is the most useful one. After all, one of the things with flash is that most of the time you don’t want to see the flash!