Last time I wrote a post about the evils of camera flash. I tried to demonstrate how it makes photos worse: lifeless, flat, sometimes even creepy. When making photos for a blog one has to do one’s best to produce good photos. Flash almost never improves a picture.
But the problem is that cameras “see” less light than we do, and in circumstances where we can even read in the light we have, we get a picture that is pitch black. In demonstrating the perils of using flash, the question remained: what to do then when there isn’t much light available?
To demonstrate that even with the simplest camera this simple trick can help you make better pictures no matter the camera, I’ll use a basic pocket camera.
I used these pictures last week to show you how using a flash affects the pictures we take. The flash produces harsh shadows, obliterates details, and drowns ambient light. The picture on the right however, has that warm, soft light that makes anything look better. Where good light should be like a fine mist, flash is a pressure hose.
But then, of course, I took both pictures with my DSLR, and it would be unfair not to take into account people shooting with simpler cameras. So I decided to make the photos for this post with my little pocket point and shoot. It’s as basic a camera as you could find. I also decided to take the picture without moving my subjects, to illustrate what you can do when you cannot move yours (if you are photographing a room, for example), or there is no chance you’ll get better light elsewhere.
- The first thing you ought to do is turn the flash off. Each camera is different, so you will have to find how to do it in yours.
- Find out if you can install a tripod shoe onto your camera. See that little hole at the bottom of mine, that’s where the tripod shoe screws in. Even very simple cameras and some cellphones can be used with tripods.
- Use a tripod. I own very cheap ones, and expensive ones, the cheap ones are fine for a light pocket camera. You can get a tripod on Amazon (affiliate) starting at about $10. If you cannot buy a tripod, a flat, even surface will do. The camera needs to stand on its own though. You will also need to turn on the shutter delay on your camera. That way you can press the shutter and the camera will shoot a little later, by not touching the camera when the picture is taken you will minimize shakiness.
- My point and shoot gives me no control whatsoever over aperture, shutter speed or ISO sensitivity. If your camera is similarly simple, then choose the scene mode for portrait, it will give you the best result under these circumstances.
- This picture was taken handheld, no flash. As you can see the picture is dark and blurry. The camera compensates for the lack of light by taking longer to take the picture. Since we cannot hold the camera as steadily as needed, the camera also records the movement of our hands, resulting in a blurry picture.
- This is where most people decide to use flash, the camera, having produced sufficient light with the flash, doesn’t take as long to take the picture, the blurriness is gone, instead we are left with the ugly results of using the flash.
- This one was taken using a tripod, shutter delay (the picture was taken 3 seconds after I pressed the button) and on portrait mode. The picture is not blurry, and it is not terribly dark, but it is still not a great result.
- Here is where post-processing software shines. Using the free software Pixlr (check out this post) I adjusted levels, and sharpened picture no. 3. This is the best result a pocket camera can produce with this little light. Not bad, eh? Specially compared with the alternative.
And this is the picture re-composed.
I have to admit that it is not a great picture, but remember that is a extreme case in which I decided not to use extra light, or move the subject, or in any way alter the light. It was a “take it as you found it” picture, and we have to admit that it is still a lot better than the same picture if it had been shot with flash. It is plenty usable for a blog or Etsy shop.
Next time I’ll tell you how to improve on this, and tricks to get even better light without having to buy strobes, softboxes, umbrellas and such.