Using slow synchronization flash

Because we’re wanting to buy a new digital camera, Howie and I have listed his Dell Axim X5 and some other items on eBay. My main reason for writing isn’t to plug our eBay listings (though, hey, it is my site and why not!), but to pass along some useful photographic technique info I learned while creating the images for those listings. Stick with me…


In the process of setting up the auction photos, I discovered something pretty useful about shooting electronic items, especially those which have an illuminated screen.

At first, I had a hard time getting the exposure well balanced for the whole shot. This has been my experience before when photographing laptops with TFT displays, too.

In a nutshell, the problem was this: (1) If I used the camera’s flash, metering on the whole scene, the area surrounding the PDA’s screen came out good, but the screen itself appeared dull and dark. (2) If I shot the item without flash, metering on the screen, the screen came out bright, but the rest of the shot came out underexposed and lost detail.

I sure didn’t want to mess with creating a composite image in Photoshop, but I was unhappy with the lack of vibrancy on the screen in my photographs. It was important to me to show the quality of this PDA’s display for my auction.

What to do? Enter slow synchronization flash! I use an Olympus C-2100uz, but this nifty mode is available on many of the better digital cameras. Slow synchronization works by firing in conjunction with a long exposure. This allows not only the flash-illuminated subject to be captured, but also lets in some ambient light. The result is a more evenly exposed shot with more natural lighting.

The following side-by-side comparison of photos illustrate what I’ve been trying to explain. Sometimes a picture’s worth a thousand words!

On my camera there are two modes for slow synchronization: Slow1 and Slow2. With Slow1 (1st Curtain) the flash goes off at the beginning of the long exposure. With Slow-2 (2nd Curtain), the flash goes off at the end of the long exposure.

Since I was dealing with a still subject, it didn’t really matter which curtain I used. With a moving object, it does make a difference. For a stellar explanation of all this, along with some photo examples, see Digital Focus: Master Your Camera’s Flash Modes. Digital Focus, by the way, is just a sampling of the excellent newsletters available from PCWorld.

4 thoughts on “Using slow synchronization flash

  1. I have just been to your Gallery… oh my! Wonderful photography! Well done. I have been trying to get those close-ups for a year. Are you thinking of having a go at 20 Questions and Answers starting April 1st?

  2. Sorry; owner of Sony Cyber-shot 5.0 and still only half way through the manual! Trying to capture that raindrop on the leaf!

  3. Hullo, Lynn –

    Thank you so much! I take my camera with me *everywhere*. I definitely am no fashion plate using my camera bag as a purse, but I am always happy when I see something magnificent and actually have my camera at my side to capture it.

    What is 20 Questions and Answers? Sounds intriguing!

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