Most cameras sold today (with the exception of some phone cameras) have a built in flash for nightime and indoor shots. All cameras with a flash, even the entry level models will have several flash modes. Depending on your camera you may not have all the modes listed here, or you may have a few extra modes. The ones listed here are typical of an average point & shoot camera. Let's start with the obvious ones.

The Flash icon looks like a flash of lightnihg. The symbol on the left is used to signify that the flash is set to on, and is also called Forced Flash. Forced flash means that the flash will fire every time the shutter is pressed, with full intensity. A typical point & shoot camera will have a Forced flash range of 12 - 15 feet at full wide angle, and only 6 - 8 feet at full telephoto angle.This means everything within the specified distance will be illuminated by the flash. The longer the zoom is on your camera, the shorter the flash range is. Superzooms usually  have a more powerful range to compensate for the fact that when you zoom in more, the image darkens (see the page on zoom lenses). Once the flash has fired, you won't be able to take your next picture untill it's recharged itself like film compact cameras did, though to get round this you can turn the flash off. It  typically takes just a second or two at most to recharge then't get too close using forced flash, as it will often wash out your subject. Forced flash is sometimes called fill flash, and can be used from a distance in daylight or under artificial light to remove harsh shadows.

Whist Forced Flash is where you 'Force' the flash to fire whatever the conditions are, the Flash Off symbol is the opposite and it's icon is remeniscent of a road sign - a circle with a line through it. It may also have the word 'Off' next to it. As it's name suggests, the flash doesn't fire in this mode, and it's useful when shooting macro images or close up portraits in natural light. If Your camera has manual settings a long exposure and a tripod to steady the camera will enable you to shoot in low light conditions without a flash, but with the addded risk of increased digital noise in your images.

A halfway house between the two modes shown above is Auto Flash mode, typified by the symbol on the left. In this mode, the camera's built in focus assist lamp decides whether or not there is enough light to take the picture, and if there isn't the flash will fire. On some cameras it will detect which flash mode to use. For example, if it detects faces it might select Red Eye removal mode. If your camera employs this method, when you half press the shutter to focus you will notice the icon change.

An icon of a flash with an eye next to it singnifies Red Eye Removal mode. Although it's name suggests the removal of red eyes, elimination would be a better description, as the flash actually fires twice,the first flash fires to fool the human eye by shrinking the iris, and the second firing is when the picture is taken. This mode works well with most digicams, but on some cameras it doesn't work as well as it should. On other models, the standard forced flash is good enough not to cause red eye, though I've yet to see the perfect camera that never causes any red eye. Some cameras have in camera processing to automatically  remove red eyes after the image is taken if they are detected, and some will let you manually do it in camera, whilst some cameras will let you choose between a red eye flash mode or in camera post processing, so check your maual and menu's. In camera processing however will usually give your subject black coloured eyes where red eye has been corrected, but Red Eye flash mode will preserve the original eye colour if the mode works for the shot you're taking. If you use a hot shoe flash on your bridge camera then you can usually tilt the flash upwards so you're not firing the flash directly into the subject's eyes, thus avoiding red eye. Pets such as cats and dogs often photograph with fluorescant green eyes, and pet mode in the shooting mode should be used instead of red eye flash, as that mode is designed to eliminate green eyed pets.

Slow Synch flash is designed for night time photography, and should be used with a tripod. As night shots require slower shutter speeds (a.k.a longer exposures) the flash fires twice in this mode, the first flash  to expose the background, followed by  a smaller flash to illuminate the foreground. Using slow synch flash meansyou can achieve shots featuring a blurred background and an in focus subject.

Some cameras also have a specific Fill In flash mode. This is used to eliminate harsh shadows in daylight or artificial lighting conditions. It can often be another term for Forced Flash (see above), but it can also be a reduced flash for shooting closer to your subject to remove the shadows without washing out your subject or causing underexposure. In many cameras, the Focus Assist Lamp (the tiny infra red or UV light at the front of your camera to aid focus) will judge the distance from your sbject and set the intensity of the flash so as to avoid washed out images.

The above modes are the most common modes found on point 'n' shoot and bridge cameras. There are others, but they are usually found on high end DSLR's or top of the range Compact System models that are outside the scope of It is hoped this page will help you understand the vaious flash modes commonly found on point 'n' shoot compact cameras, so you can take better pictures.

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