Central Park, New York City, New York – May 2009
Do yourself a favor and turn off your flash. And don’t use it for a week.
This is exactly what I did when I decided I want to get off “the green box” and actually learn how to use my camera. I wanted the camera to stop telling me what I should do and start calling the shots myself. And without a flash, you can begin to learn about light, which is all photography is anyways. On the camera, you begin to understand aperture, shutter speed and ISO and how they’re all connected.
I’m not a very technical person. Those fractions last week sent me into a mid-afternoon coma. I can’t speak to numbers and equipment and all that jazz and I’ve never claimed to be smart at any of that. I just know what I know.
And I know that if you turn off that flash, you’ll see a difference.
When I finally quit relying on “the green box” (which I’ll admit I still use occasionally), my photography began to improve. I’d switch my settings while photographing the same subject. I began to move around subjects to see if the light or point of view could improve. I began to understand how to read the light and know what shutter speed I needed to get the shot I wanted. Or which aperture to set on for the depth of field I thought would be best. All of this stemmed from turning off the flash.
I was flipping through my New York City photos the other day and I’m still surprised to find that I’ve improved even since last May. I got a few stellar shots in NYC but those were mostly luck (yes, LUCK). When I look at the whole lot, the ones I thought were the best for keeping and sharing, I see things that I would have done differently. Things that could have improved the photograph. Hind sight’s 20/20. But we all know practice makes us better. Not perfect – no one’s perfect.
I still struggle. I don’t know why peachy skin looks pasty white against concrete. Or why I can’t keep the dog from being blurred. I really don’t see “raccoon eyes” until after the fact which isn’t helpful. And I definitely struggle when using a flash… but I’m glad I turned it off and practiced with natural light. The on-camera flash isn’t very good (only shoots out about 10 feet) and using the accessory flash is like flying a small spacecraft (as in, I find it difficult). I’m learning as I go and try new things all the time.
But if you’re new to your camera or if you just want to challenge yourself, turn off the flash. You’ll start seeing the world – light – in a whole new way.
If you’re really into flashes, strobes and the like [and don’t want to turn off your flash], check out The Strobist. This blog discusses artificial light photography and does an excellent job showing readers how to use flash photography in a good way. This seems too technical for me, the Flash-Free Gal, but you can learn some pretty swanky tricks.