We have all gone to sporting events and seen the audience cameras flashing two hundred or more yards distant from the action on the field. The truth is they are all wasting their time and batteries. Sure they will get some passable pictures, but that will be from the stadium lights. A camera flash cannot illuminate anything that is more than about 15 to 20 feet away. I’ll put that another way. The light from those flashing cameras cannot reach anywhere near to the action on the field. You may get some silhouettes of the backs of patrons sitting a few seats away.
There are many other occasions when amateur photographers waste effort and time trying to light up people and objects that are too far away from the flash. But the flash that’s part of the camera gives the amateur or newbie a feeling of safety and confidence that the resulting picture will be at least passable and not a black unreadable blur. When I learnt this fact some years ago I kept my camera flash turned off all the time and tried to take my photographs either in available light or adding some other light source and controlling the shots by varying shutter speed and f-stops. Only when I thought the shot absolutely needed the flash did I turn it on. This is a rule I recommend strongly. It drags you out of your safety zone and makes you think about and learn the options for manual operation even with a point and shoot.
But there are other reasons for not using flash. Did you know that many professionals advise that all buit-in flashes are poor and more often than not result in horrible shadows, washed out faces, shiny hot spots and highlights from reflective surfaces. If you are going to shoot with flash frequently, better switch to a DSLR and invest in an independent flash unit.
And there is one time when a built in flash should never ever be used; when taking pictures of new-born babies. Even though the flash lasts a fraction of a second, a bright white xenon camera flash could seriously damage a new-born babies eyes, and its not just a case of correcting red eye electronically.
So when should you turn on the flash which from now on you will keep switched off permanently. This will surprise you. Turn it on in very bright sunlight to soften harsh shadows and at nights or internally when its too dark. You should also turn on flash to light up a subject in the foreground when there is a very bright background light. If not you will shoot silhouettes even though you are seeing details on the subject. One day they may invent a camera that reads and records light just like our human eyes. In the meantime learn when to use flash to take great pictures. How? Practice analyse learn; practice analyse learn, Practice…