Tuesday Photography Tip – Cell Phone Camera Tips-5

This is the fifth post on Cell Phone Camera Tips. The first post introduced camera settings and the #1 villain behind blurry photos. The second warned against using digital zoom and touched on portrait techniques. The third post addressed clutter reduction and last week’s post was all about perspective and shooting angles.

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Today we will touch on a topic that causes anxiety for most novice photographers – using your flash. We discussed this in an earlier post and gave you some tips on how to use your flash. Today we will focus on using the flash on your camera phone in situations you may not consider – outdoor portraits. You will learn how to use your flash as a secret weapon in these situations.

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Why use a flash outside in the bright sun? Look at the photos above and I think you will see how adding a pop of “fill flash” (as shown in the right hand panel) made a huge difference.

In those photos the flash wasn’t used as the main light source – that job was aptly filled by the sun. However, our tiny camera phone flash provided a burst of light to “fill in” dark shadows and correctly expose the children’s faces.

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The flash on your camera phone isn’t very powerful. But if your close enough to your subject (no more than 10 feet) it can provide “fill” even with backlit subjects.

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Turn on the flash by toggling through the modes (Off, Auto, On or, if available, Fill.) Keep your subject within the “flash range” – less than 10 feet – and let the flash light their faces. Keeping within the flash range will also ensure that you fill the frame with your portrait subject – a technique discussed in this earlier post.

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The level of sophistication in your cell phone camera is truly astounding. Before you can blink an eye while you’re pushing the shutter button the flash fires, the camera analyzes the amount of light returned to the sensor and then adjusts the flash power resulting in a correct exposure. That’s right – your camera has a computer inside that very quickly and accurately meters the flash and adjusts its power before you are even aware it’s happening. Amazing!

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With that in mind, let’s look at some simple flash considerations to keep in mind. They aren’t complicated – just situations to avoid because your camera phone isn’t infallible.

In dark scene where the flash contributes most of the light (e.g. outdoor at night, dark rooms) only nearby objects will be lit. As stated earlier, flash only works on objects within 10 feet from the camera. This is especially true for small camera phones. Don’t expect your flash to light up anything beyond that distance – it just doesn’t have enough ooomph. If you try to overwork your flash your subjects will have that “shot in a cave” look – not real impressive.

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If  you have someone or something significantly closer to the camera than other people or objects that someone/something is going to be overexposed while the others will be correctly exposed or underexposed. Did we mention how quickly flash power falls off  with distance (I hope so!!). Here’s another consequence of that – Aunt Martha is overexposed because she is so much closer to the flash than her daughter and the others.

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So, the simple technique is turn on the flash even when  you wouldn’t think to. You’ll notice an immediate improvement in the photos of your children/family especially in outdoor scenes.

Feel free to comment or show off some of your own compositions that illustrate this tip. In the meantime, stay tuned because more Tuesday Photo Tips are right around the corner. Better yet – be updated automatically by “friending” our Facebook site.

PS – This is one of dozens of photo tips in our continuing Tuesday Photo Tips series of posts. There  are other resource articles on our site you may enjoy covering basic and more advanced photography topics. There are also tips covering topics such as preparing for family or infant/child portrait sessions. If you would like a topic covered just jot it down in a comment or send us a note.


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