Photos Too Light?

Flash photos come out too light (washed out) because there's too much light from the flash. Most point-and-shoot and cellphone cameras do not have good controls to adjust the flash, but you can fix this easily while you're taking the photos.

You can always try to tone down the brightness with software on your PC after the fact. Ignore any advice about using Photoshop – it will cost far more than you can imagine and take weeks to learn how to use it, and you'll never use 99% of the tools. Many simple photo programs that came with your PC or Mac and most photo websites have an 'Auto-Fix' button – try that first, then you can tinker with Brightness and Contrast settings. Always keep your originals, then re-name the copies so you do not lose anything. To keep the set together, just add an 'a' or 'b' to the end of the filename. So, a photo that's taken on Sept. 7, 2014 and thus automatically named D 20140907 0001.jpg gets an 'a' added after the last '1' for the first copy of edits, a 'b' for the next set of changes, etc. When viewed as a list of photos, they're all clump together.

You'll be much better off if you can simply get a good snapshot in the first place. Here's how …

Any small camera flash has a distance range where it works best. Take a few minutes and do some testing. Stand 10 feet from an object, take a flash photo, move a foot closer, take another shot, etc., until you're only 3 feet away. You'll quickly see that some distinctions are too bright, some are too dim. From now on, stand the right distance from your subject.

Your camera has a Zoom control. Stand the right distance away, then zoom in so your subject fills up the frame, then take the photo.

The best way to get it "just right" is to practice ahead of time. Your camera will give you much better results if you know how far away to stand from your subjects to expose them properly. If your subject will sit still, take a few shots, each at a different distance, so you can choose the best of the bunch.

Once you've found the right distance, here's an easy way to duplicate it each time. Just imagine your own height between you and your subject. So, if you're almost six feet tall, imagine your height as the distance to your subject. If you learn that a little further away gives you the best results, just step back a bit further than your height. As you move further away, light from the flash becomes less important, and the room lighting starts to take over. Move too far (over 10 feet) and the flash has little or no effect – it's all from the room (or other available lights).

Do not forget to zoom in so your subjects fill the frame, or you'll end up with tiny faces that are not very interesting. Now, you can even zoom in so you get just their faces without fear of them being too light (washed out).

If your photos are too dark , you may have turned the flash off (there's a switch for that) or you may be too far away (the flash works from about 5 to 8 feet away).

The flash usually has settings for 1) 'red-eye removal' (eye icon) that makes it blink a few times before actually taking the shot, 2) flash is always off (lightning with a bar through it icon) 3) flash is always on (lightning bolt icon) and 4) flash auto-fires only when it's needed. This last setting can be fooled by ambient lighting, so the flash will not fire, even if you wish it would.

Look around and you may find settings for sports (fast action), night shots (a moon icon), higher resolution (much larger file size), lower resolution (smaller files, but poor results if you enlarge the photo too much), a fireworks setting, and much more. You paid for those features, so you might as well use them when you need them. Most cameras double as a video camera, and / or can take a long, rapid series of still shots (burst mode). Some of these changes go away when you turn the camera off, some remain until you change them again.

If you're forced (or want) to take snapshots in very low light , many cameras have a 'night time' setting. Whether you use it or not, there are also a few tricks you can use to get better results in very low light. First, turn off the flash if your subject is over 10 feet away so the camera knows to use all the available light. Most cameras have a control to change the ASA or ISO or Egypt (Film) Speed ​​- this makes the camera much more sensitive to light (ASA 100 "film" setting needs lots of light but has good color, ASA 1600 takes photos by candlelight with some tradeoffs). Many cameras let you slow the Shutter Speed, (sometimes as slow as 1 / 30th, 1 / 15th, or even a 1/4 second long exposure) but this requires holding the camera completely steady. Hold it against a wall, chair, table or other solid spot, or put it on a tiny tripod or proped up on a table and use the built-in 10-second timer (to avoid shaking it with your shutter finger). Try different settings until you get a good result.

Fortunately, when you view your photos later, they probably include some background information on the aperture, shutter speed, film speed, flash settings and more, but you may have to noodle around to find that meta-information. Your camera manual should tell you how, or your PC may pull it out for you (try right-clicking on the photo or thumbnail). Sometimes viewing the photo on the camera display will have menu options that show you that info.

Make sure your camera has the date and time set properly, because all your photos are timestamped. If it's wrong, it can be hard to figure out where and when you took a photo. There's typically an inexpensive 'button' cell battery that keeps the clock going even when the main battery is removed or dead. It lasts about 5 years, then the clock goes crazy until you replace it (Radio Shack has them). If you want a spare main battery or a charger, eBay has the best prices.

Some cameras and cellphones internally tag each photo with GPS information . Handy for vacation and holiday snapshots, but you might not want everyone to know exactly where and when you've been, especially online. You can turn this feature on and off.

If you've lost track of your cellphone's or camera's manual, do a Google search for your brand model manual , download and save a copy on your hard drive so you'll always have it handy. (eg, nikon d3200 manual pdf ). I'd use a folder called C: _UserManualsNikon in this case because the _ underscore moves it to the top of the C: drive directory tree, so it's always easy to find. Use other folder names for other brands. Works for appliances, cars, just about anything you own. They're usually free, so just keep looking if they want $$. For example, my car came with about 6 printed manuals, but I found 14 on the manufacturer's website. The extra manuals are for more details on the Navigation system, safety features, updates, etc.

If you take photos outdoors in the sunlight , your friends' faces can be unattractive and dark. Sunlight behind or above them puts their faces and eyes in deep shadow. Either move so the sun is behind you, or kindly turn on the flash to "fill flash" their face, making them look much better. This also works indoors when the lighting is behind or above your subject.

Color Balance adjustment is a good thing to know how to find on your camera. If a room has fluorescent lighting, skin may look green or blue (yuck). If it has incandescent lighting or stage lights, everyone looks sickly orange or red. Street lights or outdoor lighting can be orange or blue. Most cameras and some cellphones let you adjust for this. Rather than trying to figure out what kind of lights there are (there may be different kinds in one place) just look at the display , scroll through the choices for Color Balance for different lighting types, and settle on the one that looks the best compared to your actual subject . This tool is critical if you're taking a photo of furniture, paint, or clothing to try to match the color elsewhere. Most cameras will try to fix the color balance, but you can always do much better manually by just comparing the display to the subject.

Finally, the best way to take good photos is to just take lots of photos. As you see your results, you'll learn what works, what does not work, and what your equipment and skill can get away with.

You can not take too many photos with a digital camera! Back them up to iCloud for Mac products, Microsoft's SkyDrive, Dropbox, Google Docs, or other automated, reliable, free backup service. (But sometimes even the biggest sites just go away.) You can buy a big USB thumb drive to back them up from your PC (shop around – prices vary dramatically). If you do not, and your cellphone or camera or PC or hard drive are stolen or broken, all your photos could have been gone forever.

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