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When Should You Use a Flash when Taking Pictures at Nighttime?

written by: Kristina Dems•edited by: Amy Carson•updated: 6/30/2011

Night photography is always more tricky than daytime photography because of the limited light conditions. Flash can help you out in this situation but you have to be careful and really picky.

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    Night Photography Night photography using a flash may seem like an obvious choice for photographers because of the combination of flash and poor lighting conditions. However, simply firing up the flash on your camera in dark settings is not enough to produce beautiful photos. At best, you can achieve a very well lit subject and a very dark background.

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    Understanding Flash

    In night digital flash photography, the Sony R1 and similar cameras with autofocus, high ISO and fast shutter speed capability will come in very handy. But you have to understand first how flash works before you can bring all of these features together and capture really nice night time photos. Firing up the flash will cause your camera to pick a fast shutter speed. This will keep your subject’s image sharp because it is frozen, but it can also be really bright with a dark background. This is the disadvantage of using flash at night.

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    Slow Sync Flash

    If you do not want to suffer from the disadvantages of flash at night, you can opt for a camera with Slow Sync Flash capability. This feature allows your camera to fire its flash while maintaining a slower shutter speed. This makes it possible for ambient light to be collected by the camera, making the background and every other part of the shot brighter while keeping the subject of your shot well lit and still. This effect is more commonly known as the Night Mode, a shooting mode which is gaining popularity in such a way that almost all kinds of cameras include this preset shooting mode. There are however cameras that let you set the exposure length and the strength of the flash to give you different effects. You can play around with these settings to give you the optimum look for your night time photos taken with flash.

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    Setting Your Camera

    For night digital flash photography, Sony R1 and other types of cameras need to have their ISO and shutter speed set to appropriate levels to compensate for the lighting conditions. With an ISO set to 200 to 400 and the shutter speed set to 1/10 to 1/30, you can get decent night time shots with your camera. However, this will still be blurry and dim. This is where flash comes in. Some cameras will automatically detect these settings and the light condition and it will fire, but some will have to be set manually. If your camera needs to be told to fire the flash at specific moments, you need to do so when applying these settings.

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    Finding the Right Angle

    Because light sources come from specific points during night time as opposed to light coming from all directions during day time, you need to determine the perfect angle where you will be shooting your subject. Shooting a subject from an angle where a source of light is shining on them from the opposite direction will give a different effect than shooting your subject with a totally dark background. Play around with angles and light sources to achieve different looks while still using the same settings with flash.

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    When to Use Flash

    Some people assume that just because it is night time, they need to use flash. That is simply not the case because depending on what kind of photo you want to take, flash may not be needed. Some night scenes even have enough lighting to not require the help of a flash. Using flash in these types of conditions may result in extremely bright photos with extremely dark backgrounds. This is why you have to consider all the available light sources and the type of photo you want to take before you decide on using flash. In addition to these considerations, you also need to check your camera’s flash modes. There are cameras with multiple flash settings that range from not so bright to very bright. Learn your camera’s flash capabilities so you can make more informed decisions when using flash.

    Night digital flash photography is not always the best option when shooting at night time. Whenever you can, choose to not use flash especially when you’re in a well-lit environment such as an area directly beneath street lights. Just remember that close subjects are the best kind of subjects for you to use flash on. For subjects that are far away, rely on ambient or other sources of light. Take for example the face of your friend. You want a clear and crisp shot of them so a flash can do wonders. However, for the moon, let natural light do the job for you.