CHOOSE NOT TO CHOOSE
By MICHAEL PERKINS
FOR MOST PHOTOGRAPHERS, THE ACT OF MAKING A PICTURE HAS TRADITIONALLY MEANT CHOOSING ONE THING OVER ANOTHER; exposing some things within a frame nearly perfectly, while, by default, settling for under-or-over-exposure of other objects within that same picture. We find ourself making priorities within the image, sorting things into piles marked “important” and “not important”. Get the color right on the surf and let the sky go white. Tamp down the snowy mountain and leave the surrounding forest black. Get this part right: leave this part wrong.
At least that’s what our earlier habits led us to accept. You can’t have it all, we tell ourselves. Decide what you really need to show and leave the rest. However, there’s a big difference between deciding to de-emphasize something in an image and feeling powerless to do anything else. Happily, ongoing developments in camera technology work to progressively minimize the number of scenarios in which you have to make these unholy choices, and one of the things that can save many such pictures is (a) readily at hand, (b) cheap, and (c) easy to work with; your on-board flash.
Now before I go further, know that I hate, hate, hate on-board flash 99.9999999% of the time. It’s only slightly less harsh than a blowtorch, lousy beyond a short distance, and generally hard to focus and direct. That said, I am occasionally an oh, hell yeah believer in fill flash, for which these rude little beacons can be useful.
In the above image, shooting the traditional way, you can choose a balanced exposure for either the front yard beyond this rustic homes’ porch or the detail on the porch itself, but not both. However, if you pop up the flash, expose for the yard, and then back off just beyond the flash’s outer range, a gentle bit of light illuminates the porch’s wood grain and reduces the shadow nooks without bleaching them out (Note that, with the flash up, you can’t shoot any faster than 1/200, so you may have to control the exposure of the yard by going for a smaller f-stop. I used 5.6 here). The result is an illusion, since you’ve tricked the camera into recording an even range of light that your eye and brain seem to see naturally, but the trick looks as if it ought to be “real”.
Of course, if the yard is so magnificent in its own right, you may choose to show the porch in silhouette just to call attention to all that floral glory, but the thing is, you’re not locked in to that choice alone. The horrible, harsh on-board flash can give you more options, and thus (barely) justify its existence.
And did I mention it’s cheap and easy?
Follow Michael Perkins on Twitter @MPnormaleye.