NB: There are a lot of different smart phones/ tablets on the market and a lot of different apps, and so depending on your hardware and software, this may or may not work for you.
When I was a boy we didn’t have radio signals for remote flash units and we didn’t have TTL (through the lens) automatic flash exposure compensation… we had manual flash, guide numbers and a lot of educated guessing. It seems to me it snowed a lot too, even in summer. Okay, never mind that. I do remember flash bulbs, flash strips for Polaroids and pocket cameras and flash cubes for Kodak X-15 cameras, but those days are pretty much behind us now. There’s no question that modern DSLRs and accessories can do amazing things in terms of lighting, but more and more people are using their cell phones to make pictures and more and more of those phones have a built-in flash unit.
This is my Samsung Galaxy S4, in its ruggedized case (I tend to drop it more than would otherwise be healthy for it), and as you can see it has an LED light unit. Now, given that this is a phone and not a dedicated camera the flash unit is pretty powerful for what it is, but nothing compared to an electronic flash unit for an SLR. I tried taking my old phone apart to see where they’d hidden the hot shoe, but that didn’t work out too well. The phone’s flash works well enough for portrait work at distances up to a couple of metres, but since I don’t generally shoot images of people, I don’t often use the flash for that purpose. There is something else for which I do find the flash very useful, however, and that’s as fill lighting for close-up work – especially flowers.
In the image on the left above you can see the flash options, from auto, flash on, flash off and torch, which is a continuous light. I generally use torch because the lighting is shown on the screen and with a constant light I can see exactly what I’m getting. In the image on the right you can see the exposure options for the app. While one can’t directly control the light output of the flash, it is possible to adjust the overall exposure for the image.
Click on the flower images to see them larger.
Now, what settings you use depends on the brightness of the subject of course, but toning down the exposure can often prevent blown highlights. Using negative exposure compensation in combination with the fill light can sometimes yield a chiaroscuro effect, like this (further processing done in Lightroom):
Okay, that’s it. As I mentioned at the top, it may or may not work for you depending on the hardware and software you have, but it’s one more tool for your photographic toolbox.
Now go out and make some images!