Getting Started with Built-in Flash

Using the built-in flash on our cameras can often produce disappointing results. The pictures can be either too bright or too dark. This is especially true when we shoot in Auto Exposure modes in which the camera decides how and when the flash fires.

You can start to get better results with your flash pictures by learning about some Scene Settings (or modes) that apply to the pop-up flash. The most important of these are ones that let you tell the camera when to use the flash or not.

All cameras have a No Flash setting to prevent the flash from going off when it usually would fire because the scene is dark. Being able to turn off the flash can give you a brighter night picture if your subject is too far away for the flash to reach, such as buildings at night. You do need to put the camera on a tripod or other flat surface to prevent a blurred shot. That's because the camera takes a longer exposure without the flash, and we jiggle the camera when we're holding it.

Turning off the flash and resting the camera on a tripod
produces a sharp shot of the light from the buildings.

Automatic flash can't brighten the distant buildings.
Only the close lamp post is lit by the flash.

Using the Fill Flash or Force Flash setting tells the flash to fire when it normally would not because the scene is bright. Fill flash can rescue pictures of subjects in front of a bright background, like the sky or a window, or a person wearing a brimmed hat outside in the sun. Fill flash adds light to the shadows to reveal what our eyes can see without overexposing the rest of the photo.

Using Fill Flash brightens the cat in front of the window.

Without flash, the cat becomes a silhouette without any detail.

A third flash setting goes by various names: Night Snapshot, Night Portrait, Slow Synch Flash. These are all a combination of no flash plus flash! The Night Portrait setting fires the flash to light the subject close to the camera. But the camera stays on after the flash fires to record the light in the more distant background. This creates a photo in which both the subject and the background look brighter. Be sure your close subject stands still; otherwise, you may see a "ghost" outline if they move during the longer exposure.

Using Night Snapshot flash lights the bear and
shows the sunset through the window.

Using Auto Flash only lights the bear and
doesn't show any of the sunset through the window.

You can learn more about controlling the pop-up flash on your camera in Better Photos with Built-in Flash on Saturday, March 16, 2019, at the Lifelong Learning Center in Missoula, Montana. Click here to register.