Flash versus no flash in a dark setting

edited August 2014 Posted in » Nikon D3100 Forum
Howdy, guys!
How are you?
My name is Daniel and about a month ago I purchased my first DSLR, a Nikon D3100.
I don't call myself a photographer. My aunt invited me to shoot my cousin's birthday party and since I've been looking for opportunities to use my camera so that I can practice, I totally accepted it.
Anyway, everything was going very well, I cleaned my lens, I charged the batteries, I formatted my 8GB memory card and went to the party. I was feeling rather confident until I got there. The place was incredibly dark. The lights were off, and I asked my aunt to turn them on but she couldn't, so I figured that the only way was to turn on my flash.
I had a few test shots and first the photos got overexposed. I changed the shutter speed to 1/200, changed my flash to 1/16 and tried again.
These are the results:

There are more in the same gallery, you just have to keep on scrolling.
Is there anything I should have done in order to have good results? Are they any good for a first photography session?
Thank you very much.
Best regards,



  • edited August 2014
    I'm not much of a critic of this kind of thing, but since nobody else has come forward yet I'll take a crack at it.

    Of course we can't know all the settings you used, so much of this is general and speculative.

    First of all, I think you did pretty well given the limitations of equipment and experience. The kit lens is hard to focus in the dark, and will never give you the best AF or the best out of focus backgrounds, and whatnot. The on-camera flash will always be a bit harsh and flat, and not capable of subtle lighting adjustment.

    That said, I think the more intimate and close up shots work well, and the focus seemed a bit more accurate than the further shots. I'm guessing here that your autofocus was set on too many points and could not decide what the subject was.

    Since it's digital, you can take and delete millions of shots, so if I were you, I'd go out and fire away. Try difficult lighting situations with different settings, different flash settings, ISO's, exposure modes, and so forth, until you find what suits you best. If you expect to be doing similar work in the future, you might have to work either on manual focusing or finding a single point and focus holding, because the camera is hard put to get it right when it's dark.

    (edit to add) Don't be afraid to shoot nonsense, junk, books on shelves, cats, toasters, whatever. The point is to learn what gets you the right exposure and composition. Get used to lots and lots of deletion. There's no shame in taking 20 pictures of the same clock in different light if it helps you figure things out.

    In situations with limited depth of field, you may well have to decide what part of your picture will be in focus and sacrifice the rest. For example, when the cake is being cut, might it look better if the cake is blurrier and the person cutting sharper?

    Check out Moose's tips on shooting in low light with the D3200. You can't necessarily follow the procedure completely, because he's using a f/2.8 lens wide open, and the 3200 is a wee bit quieter on high ISO than the D3100, but it's a good place to start.

    Take all I write with a grain of salt. I'm better with butterflies than people!
  • edited August 2014
    Nice shooting. I’m sure your aunt and cousin appreciated your efforts. I liked the one with the flame coming out of the cake; very action-packed and there’s a genuine sense of surprise. You’ve captured a lot of great smiles and it’s apparent that everyone was having a good time. Often times, it’s about what emotions the pictures convey more than what the pictures look like.

    Now, if I were to be critical, I would have to say that the use of the pop-up flash was quite detrimental. I’m sure you see it as well. The typical effects of it are all present: overexposed subject with underexposed background and harsh shadows. You also get the side-effect of having the reflection of your flash show up on every balloon and M&M.

    Of course, if your options were to not get the shot or use the flash, then choose the latter all the time. But here’s a couple of things that may have helped:

    - Diffuse your flash. Use just use a piece of white paper; not a card because you do need the light to go through, so just regular printer paper or even a napkin or tissue is fine. You can either hold it in front of your flash with your hand or use tape. You may need to boost your flash compensation.

    - Don’t use the flash. Jack up the ISO to 3200 (or 6400) and see what you get. It may be a little grainy from the noise, but at least everything looks a bit more natural.

    If you plan on doing similar shoots in the future, it would be wise to invest in faster glass and/or an external flash. But in the meantime, work with what you have and try those 2 things and see how things go.

    As with everything, pay attention to composition and focus. I’ll take your cake-cutting shots as an example. Please don’t take offense or feel bad about any of this; I’m just trying to help!
    Here’s what I think about it:
    - Every single birthday has this shot: person in the center of the frame facing towards the camera cutting the cake. It’s a very typical shot. You see it and you just want to flip to the next shot because you’ve seen this before.
    - The focus is off. The focus point is on the hand in the center of the frame. The question you should ask yourself is what’s the subject in this shot? Is it the person? The knife? The cake?
    - What I think you’re trying to show in this shot is the action of the person cutting the cake. So ideally, you’ll want everything in focus. The problem here is that every single item is placed such that you need a huge depth of field. The distance between the person’s eyes and the cake is just too much.

    Here’s what you can try next time.
    - Move slightly to either side and shoot from an angle. If the person cutting the cake is at 12 o’clock and the camera was at 6 o’clock, move to either between 4 and 5 o’clock or between 7 and 8 o’clock.
    - Compose such that the person’s back is against the frame edge with her arm extending towards the center of the frame. There should be some space on the other side of the cake (Rule of Thirds).
    - Focus on the person’s eye closest to the camera.
    - Being at an angle has the advantage of decreasing the distance between the person’s eyes and the cake. So you should be able to shoot at an aperture where everything is in focus. As a side effect, it’s a more flattering angle for the person.
  • Great Tips! I myself am a new also. Have had my d3100 since 2011 and I did not use it at all last year. I just phrchased the 50-200 lense. I am hoping to start using it more.

    But I loved all of your Tips. Will put to use.
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