The best camera function you never use

It’s too dark, use the flash
Remember how pretty downtown looked that night?  Remember grabbing a great snapshot of your friends enjoying the night?  Remember getting the picture back and having a great shot of your friends… on a completely black background?  Crap!

Don’t fret, there’s a solution (for next time, not for fixing your old pictures).

All digital cameras… um… all digital cameras with a flash… well, let’s just say most digital cameras come with a special mode that improves the way your pictures look at night.  Traditionally called a “slow sync” or “curtain flash” this mode combines a flash to freeze the foreground (typically your aunt Greta) with the slow shutter speed needed to get the surrounding environment to show up at night.

One small setting change and Val goes from standing in the dark to standing in Disneyland.

Making it work for you

This really isn’t magic, but you may be surprised by the results.  Trying it out isn’t daunting, there are just three things you need to do:

  1. Learn to turn it on
  2. Steady yourself
  3. Don’t forget to turn it off (really… don’t)

Turn it on
Turning on the night-time shot mode will differ for every camera, but it is typically grouped in the settings as a flash option.  Try cycling through the various settings for your flash but don’t be frustrated if it doesn’t just pop up, on my Canon PowerShot S410 (and on my old S110 as well) the mode is called “slow synchro” which requires the camera be put in “Manual” mode.  To find out exactly how to set it for your camera browse through your manual for this icon:

It takes a steady hand
You remember the old commercials for the game “Operation”? No?  At any rate… because the picture will be taken at a slow shutter speed you will find it difficult or even impossible to hand-hold your camera for the shot.  I’ve managed to get some okay shots by just standing very still, but the best shots always come from either using a tripod or finding some piece of the environment to use as a brace.  I often look for a door frame, light post or fence and just hold the camera against it.

Don’t forget!
I have a number of great pictures which have be screwed up by leaving the camera set to slow sync.  And if you have multiple people using the camera you can frustrate your partner by handing them a poorly configured camera.

If we hadn’t noticed the bad setting, instead of a great picture
with my parents I would have been left with a blurry memory.

Don’t be afraid to experiment

The beauty of digital cameras is that you can just go nuts taking pictures and not be wasting film or processing costs.  So go nuts!  Try taking the picture even when you don’t think you can hold it steady enough, you might come up with something you like.

A deep breath, a steady hand and a lot of luck netted me a fun self portrait with Paula on Main Street USA in Disneyland.


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