Photo Ideas # 5 of 10: Controlling Your Flash with Wax Paper
In the past few posts we have looked at ways use aluminum foil as a photo reflector or plastic wrap/cellophane as a soft focus filter for photography. Yesterday I was asked by someone in a blog comment if there were any other kitchen supplies I use from time to time in photography. There is one other and I’ll conclude this tour of my photographic kitchen supplies by describing it.
Nearly all cameras sold today including DSLR, point-and-shoot and even many camera phones have a built-in flash. An in-camera flash is helpful for quickly removing shadows or brightening a scene that is too dark to photograph properly. A flash is also useful for lighting subjects that have too much light behind them, such as a person standing against a bright sandy beach.
While a built-in flash can improve many types of photos, it can also produce disappointing results, especially with close-up subjects. Many built-in flash units produce the same amount of light for both far away and close-up subjects. While the light from a built-in flash may do a great job of lighting subjects 6-15 feet (2-4.5 m) away that same light is often too bright for closer subjects, creating photos that look overexposed or burned out.
Most professional and even some semi-professional DSLR cameras today offer a way to reduce the amount of light produced by the built-in flash (called flash compensation). For other cameras you can often create a similar effect by holding a translucent material in front of the flash. My favorite materials for doing this which are also found around homes are wax paper (also known as greaseproof paper in the UK), freezer paper or tracing paper. Holding one of these papers in front of the flash unit while taking a photo will diffuse the light and cut down the intensity of light reaching the subject. In the example above, the left photo was made using the standard built-in flash on a point-and-shoot camera. The photo on the right was made with that same camera but while holding a small folded piece of wax paper a short distance in front of the camera’s flash unit.
NOTE: Because wax-, freezer- and greaseproof papers are coated with a thin waxy substance, to keep your flash unit clean it’s best to keep those papers 1-2 inches (25-50 mm) away from the flash.