Monthly Archives: October 2012

Photo Tip #7: An Introduction to Flash Photography


Flash PhotographyFlash photography is probably the medium’s least understood aspect. Flash photography is considerably more complex than working with natural light alone, as you are simultaneously controlling two exposures–the flash exposure and the ambient-light exposure. With a modest investment in equipment and an understanding of basic principles, you can achieve professional, natural-looking results easily and consistently. Using flash adds highlights to a subject’s eyes and can even out harsh, contrasting shadows.

Basic equipment includes an external flash unit, a flash bracket for mounting the flash off the camera, and a flash diffuser for softening the light. A second (and even a third) flash unit allows for more sophisticated lighting techniques. An external flash is many times more powerful than a built-in flash and the flash head can be tilted for bounce flash. If you are serious about portraiture, you will want to invest in a quality flash.

Most cameras have a flash sync speed of 1/200 or 1/250 second. This is the fastest shutter speed you can use with a flash. Any faster will result in a partially exposed image, though many of the new digital SLRs have an automatic override which resets the shutter to its proper sync speed. Slower shutter speeds are fine and do not affect flash exposure, but will increase the amount of ambient exposure. Be sure to check your camera manual for the proper sync speed setting.


Flash PhotographyFlash illumination is strongly affected by distance. When you double the distance from flash to subject, four times the light is required to provide the same illumination. Double that distance again and sixteen times the amount of light is needed to provide the same amount of illumination. This is known as the Inverse Square Law. To further illustrate this point, if your subject is properly exposed at 2.8 feet, you will be 1 stop underexposed at 4.0 feet, 2 stops underexposed at 5.6 feet, three stops underexposed at 8.0 feet, etc.. You can see that if you have two subjects which are placed at varying distances, you will need a second light source if both subjects are to be properly exposed.

We are all familiar with the harsh shadows commonly associated with flash photography. Bounce flash provides a softer, more uniform light to a scene. Simply point the flash at a 90 degree angle to a white wall or ceiling. Avoid colored walls, as they alter color balance. Bounce flash usually requires about a 2-stop increase in exposure to compensate for light dispersal. Bracket (change your aperture setting, not your shutter speed) to insure an optimum image. You can use a piece of white foam board as a reflector in outdoor portraiture, or to fill shadow areas. A flash diffuser fits over the flash head to soften the light and provide a more even illumination. Red-eye is another common occurrence with flash photography. To remedy this problem, move the flash unit further away from the lens. You can hold the flash to the side and at arm’s length, or mount it on a flash bracket or tripod. You can also have the subject look slightly away from the camera. Avoid backgrounds such as glass, mirrors, and other highly reflective surfaces which throw light back into the camera.

If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions, please contact me.

Until next time, happy image-making…


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Lassen Volcanic National Park–A Small and Shining Jewel

Lassen Volcanic National Park














Lassen Volcanic National Park is a living testament to our planet’s fiery origins. When Lassen Peak began erupting on Memorial Day, 1914, the volcano would produce more than 390 recorded eruptions before settling into dormancy in 1917. Those fiery origins are still alive and visible today in places bearing names like Bumpass Hell, The Devil’s Kitchen, and Little Hotsprings Valley. While Lassen Volcanic National Park is overshadowed by its more famous siblings, Lassen is a small and shining jewel and, in many ways, this is its appeal. As is the case with many national parks, stray from the road just a short distance and any crowds fall away dramatically. Summer is the high season and sees about half a million visitors annually. After Labor Day, the Park suddenly empties out with the exception of a few day hikers and week-end visitors.  Fall is a spectacular time to experience Lassen.


Lassen Volcanic National Park

Lassen Volcanic National Park enjoys many distinctions. You will find all four types of volcanoes–the stratovolcano (ancient Mount Tehama), shield volcano (Mount Harkness, Sifford Mountain), tephra cone (Cinder Cone, Red Cinder Cone), and volcanic dome (Lassen Peak is the world’s largest plug-dome). Most types of geothermal features are found in the Park, though no true geysers exist here. Terminal Geyser is technically a fumarole. Bubbling mudpots, hissing steam vents, and colorful hotsprings comprise the many geothermal areas.

Lassen Volcanic National Park possesses 51 lakes within its boundaries, most of which are the result of Lassen’s past glacial activity. Exceptions to that are Manzanita and Reflection Lakes at the Park’s north entrance. These two lakes formed when a large portion of Chaos Crags, a cluster of four lava domes, collapsed some 300 years ago, setting off a massive rockfall-avalanche, damming Manzanita Creek. Snag and Butte Lakes formed when one of Cinder Cone’s lava flows dammed Butte Creek.

Located at the southern end of the Cascade Range, Lassen Volcanic National Park lies in a transition zone for four major biological provinces–the Cascade, the Sierra Nevada, the Great Basin of Nevada, and California’s Central Valley. Over 700 species of vascular plants reside here, including the endangered skunk-leaved polemonium, which grows only at or near the summit of Lassen Peak. The Park is also home to some 200 species of birds–and mammals include the pine marten, red fox, bobcat, mountain lion, and black bear.


Lassen Volcanic National Park















While many of the major features are visible from the Park road, untold worlds are to be discovered in Lassen’s backcountry. Cinder Cone is a personal favorite. ‘Otherworldly’ best describes Cinder Cone and its associated lava flow, the Fantastic Lava Beds. This 100 foot-high mass of block lava spewed forth during one of its eruptions, and is responsible for the formation of Snag and Butte Lakes. The Painted Dunes, with its rich, multi-hued earthtones, is also the result of Cinder Cone’s two or so eruptive events. Largely devoid of vegetation, this area truly does take on a feeling of another world.

For more information contact: Lassen Volcanic National Park (530) 595-4444. Website:

I welcome your comments, questions, and suggestions.

Until next time, happy image-making…


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