Lesson 33: How Far Can You Flash?

In the past couple of lessons, we’ve been talking about how to deal with moving subjects with an iPhone camera.  I showed you how to use the flash both in the traditional “flash” mode and in the flashlight mode in Lesson 31.  I made the comment that the iPhone (4S) flash will do you no good from distances more than 5 feet.

Afterwards, I suffered from guilt because I haven’t actually measured when the LED light that passes for a flash actually ceases to be effective.  So, today, I thought I would rectify that.

I set a glass with flowers in it at one foot intervals and took a photo with the flash set to on using Camera Awesome.  There is no difference in the effectiveness of the flash based on the app you use, so this is app independent.  However, I also wanted to test whether the exposure was any better using the flashlight mode versus the “flash” mode just to see if the app compensates for the extra light of the flash or not.

So, here is what I discovered:

At one foot away, the flash caused over exposure and “hot” spots.  As you can see, the effect gets better as the subject gets further back from the phone until you get to about 5 ft.  Then, the subject falls outside the circle of light cast on the floor.  However, notice that the shadows in the background all the way back to the door (at 10′ 6″) are lighter with the flash.

This is good information–while the flash may not be good for lighting a subject at more than 5′ away, it can be used to cast light into shadowy areas up to 11′ away.  Also notice the bright circle on the floor and how distracting it becomes when the subject is outside of that circle.  Raising the phone up and away from flat surfaces will help to reduce this effect.

As for whether the flashlight vs flash setting work better, well, let’s try some side-by-side comparisons.  Here is the flower vase side-by-side with the flash setting versus the flashlight setting (at 3 feet):

As you can see, the exposure looks more even with the flashlight setting than with the flash–the circle of light on the floor is far less pronounced.  So, unless you want a more pronounced circle of light, if you have enough battery life to turn the flashlight on, do it.  However, bear in mind that the flashlight setting consumes more battery life because the light is on longer.

Your Assignment:  Try using the flash at various distances in different lighting.  The flash will make a more noticeable difference in near-dark situations than it will in well-lit scenes.  It’s often enough light to get a photo in a totally dark room if you’re in range.  Also, using the flashlight setting will help the camera find focus when the scene is very dark.  Make sure you have a fully charged battery!

Do you like the flash or flashlight setting better?  If the answer is “it depends,” what are the circumstances where the flashlight setting helps the most?

Lesson 31: Blur and Flash

Something we haven’t talked about yet is how to deal with motion.  There are two sources of motion to deal with when shooting with a smart phone:  1)  Subject motion, and 2)  Photographer motion.  Today, we’re going to talk about subject motion.

When it comes to subject motion, if we were using fancy cameras with lots of manual controls, we could stop the motion pretty easily.  Since we’re not, we have limited control over whether subject motion will show up in a photo or not.

Since my dog will never hold still when I try to take pictures of him, I thought I would use him to demonstrate how to deal with a moving subject.  Of course, for once, this is the day he chose to fall peacefully asleep on the couch and not move a muscle!

In any case, one of the easiest ways to deal with motion is to add light.  The more light you can get on your subject, the less motion will show up in the photo.  I could explain to you why this is, but I promised Gina, the inspiration for this blog, not to talk about stuff like that, so you’ll just have to trust me.

Sometimes, we can’t control whether we have light on our subject or not.  When a subject is moving, it’s pretty hard to run around turning on lights without missing the moment.  Fortunately, if we’re able to get up close to our subject, the iPhone comes equipped with a built-in “flash.”

To be honest, the LED light on the iPhone is not great, but it can make the difference between getting a photo and not getting any photo.  Just remember that it’s not going to do you a bit of good if your subject is more than about 5 feet away (give or take).  It will just waste your battery.

Most camera apps have different choices for how you use your flash.  Today, we’re going to look at Camera Awesome.  First, let’s try turning the flash on.  Here’s how to do that in Camera Awesome:

In the traditional “flash on” setting, the flash will turn on and off quickly with each photo you take.  I like to turn the flash either on or off rather than using the Auto flash mode–I don’t usually agree with the camera as to when it should use the flash.

There’s actually one other option I like a lot, however.  That’s the flashlight setting. This turns the light on continuously.  This is not a great option if your battery is running low, but it’s great if you’re literally shooting in the dark.  I also feel I get better exposure when I set the exposure with the light on, but I haven’t done apples to apples comparisons to prove that.  Here’s how to turn the flashlight option on:

Your Assignment:  If you don’t have a dog to work with, try following a human around in the house and seeing if you can get some photos of them where their motion doesn’t show.  Note that the iPhone flash isn’t bright enough to help freeze rapid motion, but it can help with slower movements. Also remember that you have to be very close.  (WARNING–if you’re photographing a human (or canine) subject, be careful not to shine the flashlight directly in their eyes.  This may cause enough discomfort at close proximity that your subject will never agree to model for you again.)  Can you see a difference in the amount of blur in your photos?