June 12, 2010

Why Are My Flash Pictures Washed Out?

 Flash Indoors at Night

Flash is a very helpful accessory. It lets us take pictures when there is not enough natural light (such as at night). It can freeze a moving subject for a sharper photo. And it can improve colors of subjects photographed in classrooms or offices.

But sometimes the flash seems to ruin our photos. A common complaint is flash pictures that are overexposed or "washed out". The main reason is the subject being too close to the camera and its built-in flash. The best flash pictures happen when your subject is between 3 feet and 10 feet away. Any closer than 3 feet and your subject gets overexposed, looking almost like a ghost! Any farther than about 10 feet and your subject gets underexposed, looking dim and murky. 

  Nancy is washed out by the flash
Dale is too dark
How far is three feet? At least the length of your outstretched arm. So if you can reach out and touch your subject, you are too close and your flash picture will likely wash out. The solution is to back up one or two steps, zoom in for the original framing, and then take the photo.

How far is ten feet? No more than three or four steps away. So if you are five or six steps away, move in closer to be sure light from the flash will reach your subject.

In the picture at the beginning of this article, my cousin is sitting across the banquet table from me, about 5 feet away. So he and his new son are properly exposed by the flash. The rest of the banquet hall behind him is too far away to be lit by the flash, so it is very dark.

If you are trying to photograph several people, make sure they are all the same distance from the camera so the light from the flash reaches them evenly. For example, if you are photographing a group at a long table in a dim restaurant, don't shoot down the length of the table. Photograph across the table instead. If you want everyone in a single photo, ask the people on one side of the table to stand behind the people on the other side.

If you remember to keep the right distance from your subject when you are taking flash pictures, you will be able to prevent washed out and too dark photos.