Flash-Free Photog

Central Park

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.

To learn more about Brooke and see her recent work, visit her new site at brookemurphyphoto.com. Follow Brooke on Facebook or Twitter.

April 15, 2010 - 9:54 am

Tri - Ohh this is a fabulous shot! Love how soft, colorful it is, and a great depth of field. It sure tells a story!!!! And, I totally agree with you about the flash. I don’t use the flash, …and if it ever pops up while I click – I get so frustrated! I think it’s quite invasive esp when I’m clicking people. Love your work!

April 15, 2010 - 9:55 am

shutterboo - Thank you! If you shoot with a dSLR, there’s usually a setting that will still be automatic but without a flash. On the Canon, it’s the P Mode.

April 15, 2010 - 11:22 am

Wendi - My Nikon vexes me to how to keep the flash off. So I try to remember to keep my finger over it so it can’t pop up and fire.

April 15, 2010 - 11:38 am

shutterboo - Try the P setting on the dial – it’s the programmed auto mode. I think it’s the same as Canon’s – auto shooting but no flash. On the Nikon D3000 that is.

April 15, 2010 - 11:47 am

Victoria - Me… I try to stay away from the flash at all times!!!
I might have to check out that sight you mentioned, ’cause sooner or later I’ll have to take the leap into using flash.
For now I’m staying in aperture mode and snapping away. Sometimes I venture to shutter and manual.
I try to remind myself that I can’t learn it all in one day. And like you, I can look back and spot my mistakes.
Great post today :)

April 15, 2010 - 1:09 pm

Melissa - thats how the nikon d40 works too. i use P when I don’t want to use the flash. you can also turn it off in the settings when on AUTO… but P is easier.

April 15, 2010 - 1:10 pm

Melissa - I am ready to get out of the “luck” stage and into the “I actually understand what I am doing” stage!

April 15, 2010 - 1:44 pm

shutterboo - Well, then switch off that P mode and put it on M. Or the aperture or shutter preferred mode – you’ll learn even more. :)

April 15, 2010 - 2:57 pm

elizabeth - I’m with you–I do not like the flash. But, I recently purchased a speedlite that I am attempting to use more creatively than just attached to the camera…we’ll see.
Thanks for the encouragement,
E.

April 15, 2010 - 3:15 pm

shutterboo - I’m interested to see how you work with it. I have a ProMaster accessory flash and it’s the bane of my existence. I can “use” it but for the life of me I can’t figure out how to sync it. I’m retarded. And I don’t read manuals.

April 16, 2010 - 7:53 am

Melissa - That’s the scary part! I am a super new slr newbie… with little time to learn, but I am working on it! Your blog helps!

April 16, 2010 - 1:44 pm

katie o. - how did miss this?? i hate the flash. although sometimes it’s a necessity. shh. don’t tell anyone. and ps. you are killing it on the comments. i love it!

April 16, 2010 - 2:52 pm

shutterboo - What are these comments you’re referring to? I have no blasted idea what you are talking about. (No joke. No idea.)

April 16, 2010 - 3:02 pm

katie o. - you’re always averaging comments in the double digits. {sigh: totally jealous!}

April 16, 2010 - 3:03 pm

shutterboo - That’s because I’m a replier. Duh.

April 17, 2010 - 10:25 am

Kerryanne - Your work is beautiful!

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