That Flash You Didn’t Want

Canon 7D on Auto, indoors, late afternoon. Not awesome.

Problem: So you’re invited to someone’s house and they asked you to bring your awesome camera to take snapshots of everyone.  But you get to the house and it isn’t all that bright.  You’re on auto.  Your built-in flash pops up & screams.  You get this picture with harsh light, sharp shadows and reflections everywhere.  You are left scratching your head and wondering why this camera just can’t shoot what you want it to shoot.  While you’ve seen incredible ambient light shots, you don’t know where to start.

Solution: Start by turning your dial to “M” manual and turn up the ISO to at least 1600.  In this case, I cranked my 7D up to 4000 ISO.  Shutter speed also affects exposure and it does not matter how slow you go with it, as long as it’s fast enough to keep the camera shake down and give you a clear shot.  For this image I had it set on 125, which is a common shutter speed for me.  I opened my Aperture up to 2.2.

Immediately you’ll notice that three things happened.  The light is soft and directional, the color is truer, and the shallow depth of field (caused by the 2.2 aperture) gives you something to focus on.  It’s a huge leap towards a better image, but these particular images weren’t shot to be jaw-droppers.  Sorry chair, you are for illustrative purposes only here.

Canon 7D on manual, 4000 ISO, 2.2 aperture, 125 shutter.

You may find that it is easier to keep your settings in a general ballpark for certain lighting situations, I’ve outlined mine below.  Often I will tune the exposure by using my shutterspeed rather than toy with the ISO and aperture constantly.  Light changes.  So must your camera.

Check out your camera’s manual and find out how to change your particular camera’s metering to “spot”.  Then you meter on what you want exposed correctly and look at your meter in your viewfinder to find out what adjustments you need to make to have the camera see middle gray.  You have to tell your camera what to do.

For indoor shots, start testing your camera.  Start with opening your aperture  (lowest number) as far as it will go.  Put your shutterspeed at 125.  From there, change the ISO for each shot and see what happens.  Don’t zoom while you’re trying this.

Common settings for me:

  • Bright Day: 100-400 ISO, 5.6 Aperture, Shutter varies between 125-250
  • Overcast Day: 400-800 & rarely 1600 ISO, with above settings
  • Indoors: 800-6400, any aperture I can to keep the shutterspeed over 60

Yes, the indoors shots are the trickier ones because light varies so drastically from place to place.  But hopefully this helps to get you motivated to turn that dial off of that green square of limitations.


3 thoughts on “That Flash You Didn’t Want

  1. Great info Steph, I am not a photographer but I love to take pictures. This blog surely helped me because I have been trying to figure out the background lighting that leads me down the road to drabby pics. Although frustrating at times I do enjoy the exciting thought that maybe one day I can conquer that camera of mine.

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