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Without a doubt, one of the handiest features of your digital camera is the built-in flash. And, also without a doubt, it's also the most misused, too. Many people only think of using their flash when the ambient lighting is too dark to give them an accept- able exposure, which is one of the main reasons the flash was built into the camera in the first place. But there are lots of other times you can - and should - be using the flash to brighten-up and improve your pictures. Using the flash can often make the differ- ence between a keeper and a trasher or make a simply good picture a much better one. The thing is to know when and how to use the flash to best advantage. The thing about built-in flashes is that they don't offer the flexibility or adjustability that accessory flash units do. But that doesn't diminish their usefulness as much as you might think from that statement; it just takes a little know-how and creativity to coax the right light out of them and direct it where you want it. Some cameras provide you with a choice of regular or "fill" settings when you want to fire the flash when you trip the shutter, and this helps a bit. The "fill flash" setting, as the name implies, is useful for "filling" in the darker areas with light to improve the overall luminosity of the photograph. Generally speaking, the fill-flash output is usually not as strong as the straight flash output on a given camera, and this is done intentionally to prevent too much light from washing out the subject when used in fill mode. If your camera doesn't have a fill-flash mode, don't despair: there are still ways to get the same effect. One of the easiest ways is to use some Kleenex in front of the flash lens to lessen the amount of light that hits your subject. This is something you'll have to experiment with somewhat to gauge how many plies of tissue cut down the light enough for your purposes, so try folding it over once and shooting a picture with it in front of the flash, then review the results on your LCD to see how it came out. If things
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by Tim Bartholomew
are still looking a bit too bright, try doubling the tissue again, take another shot and review the results. There's an easier way to diffuse the harsh light emitted by the flash other than using tissue paper, and that is to use a device such as the LumiQuest Soft Screen diffuser (, an inexpensive (under $20) accessory item that easily slips over most pop-up flashes. It's great for reducing facial sheen, softening the shadows behind subjects and creating better close-up lighting in general. Another technique is to use a white card or a piece of white paper folded a couple of times to bounce the flash output off the ceiling, wall or other object to redirect the illumination. This often helps to reduce any glare or shadows that may be produced by using full-frontal flash directly. You may also find it useful to review your previous shots for comparison purposes to decide who much of this diffusing and/or bouncing yields the best result. Sometimes you may want to backlight your subject to get a dramatic silhouette, and that's fine if that's what your goal is. But then there are other times when you may still want the drama that backlighting can provide, but you want to shed some light to show some subject detail as well, and that's when your flash will come into play. Whether to use the fill-flash or full forced-flash settings depends on the subject, your proximity to it, the backlight and other variables, so there are really no hard and fast rules as to what to do or what works best - experimentation to find the right combination is the ticket. In such situations you'll find that spending a little time trying different settings will yield really great results and, more times than not, you'll get the shot and effect you're after. "Redeye" is a problem that plagues just about everyone who takes full-frontal facial shots people. Redeye is caused by the light of the flash reflecting back from the retina of the eye, which is covered with tiny blood vessels. The less ambient light there is,