Light it up

Taking pictures on the beach and around the Island is a natural activity; it is built in among all islanders. But people are always surprised to discover that they should use their flash even in – or more to the point, especially in – the bright sun.

When a cloud drifts in front of the sun it acts as a giant diffuser; it softens the light around the face of subjects and gives more even lighting in the shadows.

However, the direct rays of the bright sun create strong shadows on your subjects. It does not seem normal at all to add a flash to an already bright photo, but it can help to reduce shadows under the eyebrows or the brim of a hat.

Even the most basic point and shoot digital camera puts amazing technology in the palm of your hand. Many users leave the dial set on Auto mode and that works fine in most situations. But let’s explore how and when you should adjust your flash control to make your outdoor portraits better with fill flash.

Fill in the blacks

For many point and shoot cameras in Auto mode, the flash fires (or pops up and fires) only when you are in dim light. In bright sunlight, the camera sees that there is plenty of light for the photo, but it does not notice the small dark shadows right at the eyes. It does not realise how important the eyes are to humans.

But you can take charge and overrule your ignorant camera. You can simply change the camera’s mode dial (or menu setting) to P. Then, find the button with a lightning bolt icon—usually on the back of compact cameras. This generally brings up your flash menu (check your owner’s manual for specifics for your camera). Choose fill flash, sometimes called forced flash, and usually indicated by just a lightning bolt. Don’t use the red-eye flash, as this is intended for use in dark conditions.

If you have a retractable flash, look on the left side near the flash for the button that allows you to pop up the flash.

If your camera has flash compensation (indicated by a lightning bolt icon and +/- icon), you can even vary the output of the flash for a bolder or a more subtle effect. The closer you are to your subject, the more you will notice the flash; so be sure to shoot from no farther than about 6 feet. The camera is setting the exposure based on very bright sun, so your tiny flash needs to overpower the bright sun in order to show up in the photo. If it were dark, your flash would produce bold light even at longer distances, just like your eyes can see a dim candle far away at night, but cannot see your car headlights in the bright sun.

What lies behind

Backlighting is another situation when you might like the effects of forcing your flash to fire. Subjects standing in front of a bright sunset or inside in front of a bright window are often left in a dark shadow when your camera is in Auto mode. Although the silhouette effect might be what you are after occasionally, most people want to see the face of the person they are taking the photo of. If the flash is forced to fire, you will have both the brightly-lit background and see the faces of your friends. The flash will also add an attractive catch-light to their eyes. 

If you want to learn more tips about getting the most from your camera, check out the classes at Cathy Church’s Photo Centre located at Sunset House. Prices start at $40 US. (345) 949-7415

Kat Ramage is an award-winning underwater photographer, scuba instructor and teacher at Cathy Church’s Photo Centre. She spent most of her life in Houston, TX and made a home in Grand Cayman in 2004. She has travelled extensively to many of the dive destinations around the world, and will soon be moving to Bali to open an underwater photography school.