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Ten simple ideas to improve your photography (and a fun quiz)

Ten Tips

Ten Tips and 12 fun quiz questions.

Simple things help you…

We should all take a step back and think about the basics sometimes. It helps us remember essential techniques and keeps us on our toes. Here are the basics with some fun quiz questions too.

The simplest techniques in photography are often the most important ones. In this post we make sure we don’t forget them…

10 essential things to know; 12 fun quiz questions
  1. Not knowing your camera: This is really bad news. If you are hoping to improve your photography make sure you learn what every lump, bump, dial, screen, lens and twiddly bit does. Read your manual regularly. Practice with each function until you have got it right. Then practice it in the dark so you can do a night shoot.
    Quiz Question 1: How many lenses are there on a camera? Answers at the end!
  2. Poor stance: Most people when starting photography don’t realise that the way they stand and hold the camera creates all sorts of problems and poor performance. If you are a keen photographer a good stance can contribute to improved sharpness (hand-held shots), better focus, more steady hand and better shot timing. Learn to stand properly right at the start and you will save yourself lots of re-training time later.
    Quiz Question 2: At what point in the breath cycle is it best to take your shot?
  3. Not using a tripod: classic mistake. Tripods save you lots of time and give you pin sharp photographs. They give you an opportunity to set your camera up properly and ensures that your are ready for your shot.
    Quiz Question 3: A monopod has one leg, a tripod has three legs. What is, and how might you use, a bipod?
  4. Not giving the camera time to focus: When you press the shutter button halfway down it causes the auto-focus to cut in which focuses the camera. But if you punch straight through that to the shot the focus has not had time to do the full focus. This normally happens on the first focus attempt when the focus is right off. After that the lens in nearly focused and will adjust more quickly. So don’t make your first focus attempt too close to the shot or it will be blurred.
    Quiz Question 4: Why do you have two rings on a modern auto-focus/zooming photographic lens? What do you call each of them?
  5. Taking pictures against a bright light? Cameras don’t like very bright lights. Especially if there are also very dark spots nearby. Shooting indoors while looking at a window out to a bright sky will cause a strong white spot. This is very distracting and draws the eye away from the subject. Not good. There are Light and Lighting resource pages on Photokonnexion for you to learn more.
    Quiz Question 5: How many stops of light can healthy human eyes see (20:20 vision)? How many can the camera (rough generalisation) cope with?
  6. Relying on flash (especially pop-up flash): Pop up light has a very small concentrated source. It discolours faces, washes out colours, creates harsh, sharp-lined shadows and is badly placed (too close to the optical axis) creating nasty highlights on faces. Try to use natural light more. It is much more forgiving and does not produce such harsh shadows most of the time.
    Quiz Question 6: What is often the result of using pop-up flash with respect to two parts of the face?
  7. Dead centre subject: If you put the subject of your picture in the centre it will usually be boring. If you off-set your subject the eye will be looking to see why the symmetry is broken. That keeps the eye hunting around the screen. Learn about the “Rule of thirds” and other Composition principles. That will help you make the shot more compelling to the eye.
    Quiz Question 7: What type of compositional perspective would you be working with if you want to promote a three dimensional feel to your picture composition?
  8. Horizon control: Make sure your horizon is level, especially if it is a seascape. If you leave it on an angle the picture will be ruined because it will look like the sea is sliding off the page! Horizons also induce mid-picture viewer-stupor. Make a decision. Either shoot for the sky in which case place the horizon in the bottom third of the picture. Or, shoot for the ground in which case the horizon goes in the top third of the picture. An off-set horizon is more dynamic and keeps the viewers eye moving.
    Quiz Question 8: If your main choice is to shoot for the sky, where would you take your exposure from? (Where would you point your viewfinder focus point?) a. The sky? b. The ground?
    Quiz Question 9: Describe autofocus hunting and why it happens?
  9. Simplify, simplify, simplify: The most effective way to show a subject to your viewer is to de-clutter the picture. Take out of your composition everything that is nothing to do with the subject. The more you make the viewers eye go to the subject the more effective your shot will be.
    Did I mention that you should simplify your shot?
    Quiz Question 10: What is it called when you paint out something from your picture in post processing to simplify a shot?
    By the way, did I mention that you should work really hard to simplify your shots?
  10. Go manual: Auto-modes on your camera are really best guesses about what the manufacturer thinks will be suitable for the average shots most snappers will take. Buy you are a keen photographer. To get the camera to do exactly what you want, and to make discerning choices about your images you should work on improving your manual control. Your understanding of photographic principles will improve, your skill at exposure will improve and you will find yourself making informed choices about how you want your picture to come out. You will turn from a snapper into a photographer.
    Quiz Question 11: What does the ISO control do? a. Adjust the sensitivity of the digital image sensor or b. Change the aperture size?
    Quiz Question 12: Does ‘shutter speed’ or ‘aperture’ control movement blur?
Answers to quiz questions
  • Quiz Question Answer 1: I am talking about any camera that has a lens, not just DSLRs. the number of lenses is a matter of variation. If you are discussing photographic lenses then only that one will count (but read on). Some people think of each glass element in the photographic lens as an independent lens. Technically that is not true. They are optical lenses or glass elements, not photographic lenses. However, if the photographic lens (and elements if you included those) were all you counted you would be wrong. Here is a short list of Possible lenses on a camera of any sort…

    There may be others.

  • Quiz Question Answer 2: You should take a shot at the full inhale point or full exhale point before inhaling or exhaling in the next part of the cycle. You can choose which is best for you. All you do is delay the next part of the cycle while you take a shot. This is the point in the breath cycle when there is least movement of the shoulders/chest. Read more about it in Simple tips for a good stance
  • Quiz Question Answer 3: A bipod is photographically uncommon. Understandably, it has two legs. Find out more here… Definition: Bipod
  • Quiz Question Answer 4: The two rings on an auto-focussing photographic lens allow one ring to focus the image – the focus ring. The other ring is for zooming the lens. The latter changes the focal length and is called the focal length ring.
  • Quiz Question Answer 5: Human eyes can see about 18 to 20 stops of light when healthy. However, by contrast the best commercially available cameras have to operate with a dynamic range of 8 to 12 stops of light. Research is pushing the boundaries but there is still a big gap to meet the dynamic range of the human eye (in 2013).
  • Quiz Question Answer 6: Pop-up flash is very likely to cause red-eye.
  • Quiz Question Answer 7: To make things look three dimensional in your image you should be working with three point perspective. Look for lines in your image that promote cube-like structures. For example buildings, walls and other objects with lines and shapes that have a solid feel in real life. This will trick the eye into believing that there is a solid object in the picture. Read: Simple ideas about perspective in photography and: Definition: Perspective
  • Quiz Question Answer 8: If you shoot for the sky you will need to be taking your exposure from the sky as that is the brightest point. This will leave the ground darker in your exposure than you would see it with your eye. You can use one of a number of techniques to correct that later.
  • Quiz Question 9: Auto-focus hunting is when the auto-focus in the lens cannot focus and will keep going up and down the focus range trying to get a focus. This is a common problem at night, in darker conditions, low contrast conditions and clear or totally grey skies. You can read more about it in: Auto-focus ‘Hunting’ Definition: Hunting, Auto-focus

  • Quiz Question 10: when you paint out something from your picture in post processing to simplify a shot? You normally use a cloning tool. You can find out more in: Definition: Cloning; To Clone; Cloned; Clone Tool.
  • Quiz Question 11: What does the ISO control do? It adjusts the sensitivity of the digital image sensor allowing you to work in bright light (low ISO setting) or low light (high ISO setting). There is an article on ISO here: ISO.

  • Quiz Question 12: Shutter speed controls movement blur. Aperture controls blur (bokeh) created by the loss of sharpness outside the zone of acceptable sharpness. This is traditionally known as the depth of field. More reading on: Definition: Exposure and related to aperture: Definition: f number.

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By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photographers.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.

The simple secrets of dodge and burn – post processing

• Dodge And Burn •

• Dodge And Burn
Important techniques for affecting the light and dark in an image. (Video below).
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Dodge and burn – powerful light/shadow effects

Two of the oldest techniques in the photographic skill set are dodging and burning. In the old days of chemical baths and film developing they were the most effective way of changing the image out of camera. Simple stuff really. During the development of your film you allowed parts of the developing film to become overexposed. Other parts of the film you allowed to become underexposed. The effect on the final print was to increase the brightness in some areas of the film and darken others.

In modern post-processing we still use these techniques. Most post processing software packages have ways to create dodges (whitening or brighten) or burns (darkening or blacking). The aim of this? Well its simple really. If you have a picture and you want to do any of these things you need these techniques…

  • Increase/decrease the intensity of shadowy parts of the image
  • Increase/decrease the intensity of brighter parts of the image
  • Brighten the bright spots and darken the dark spots to increase contrast
  • Darken down intensely bright spots in the image to prevent distractions
  • Brighten the darker areas in the image to bring out detail
  • Pick out highlights

More after this…

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Dodge and burn

Although this tutorial is based in PhotoShop, most of the techniques shown in this video can be used in most editing software. If your software does not have the same tools as those found in PhotoShop check your help files for more information.

You may have to do some trial and error experiments to get these techniques working – after all, the practice will give you control of your software. Trying out these skills will give you the basic command of light and dark in the post processing context. Dodging and burning are really important techniques. Watch the video for how the techniques are used.

Photoshop dodge and burn

lynda.com on YouTube  External link - opens new tab/page

By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photographers.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.

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Easy ideas for controlling your flash unit

Specular highlights

Bath toy
Specular highlights are distracting and draw the eye which spoils the shot.

Flash is a great benefit and a problem all at once!

Most people don’t realise two things about flash. First, the standard setting is nearly always too powerful. Second, the highlights resulting from flash are very distracting.

Working with flash power

Like all things in photography you need to think carefully about using flash. It is not simply click and move on. Most improving photographers are just beginning to make shots rather than snaps when they begin to see the quality and colour of light. So it is easy to miss some of the impacts that flash has on a subject. Here are a few consequences of a flash shot…

  • An over-bright subject.
  • Strong highlights with a tendency to wash out colours.
  • Specular highlights that create sharp, bright spots that distract the eye.
  • Bright foreground, dark background.
  • Flesh tones strongly whitened giving a sick look to the face.

Each of these is almost always down to using too much power in the flash. So, the way to over come these issues is to do two things. Turn down the power of the flash and diffuse the flash so it scatters the light.

Turning down the flash is simple. You must find the setting that adjusts the flash power level. This is easy if you are using an off camera flash because the unit usually has a display and a dial or buttons to change the settings. On-camera (pop-up) flash is usually adjusted by finding a menu setting that turns the power up or down. You may need to consult your camera manual to find where that setting is found.

The key to getting the right setting for your flash is to understand how to change it. Most off-camera flash units are marked up so there is two stops of light on the flash. Normally if the flash is marked 1:1 then that is full power, and more often than not this is the default setting. You can usually turn this down by one third of a stop of light at a time. Each time you stop down the setting one stop you are halving the light it emits.

Pop-up flash units may not be marked so clearly. Some are marked [low – medium – high], others, particularly point and shoot cameras, may just have “full | half”. More sophisticated pop-up units may also be marked in the same way that off-camera flash units are marked. Which ever your flash is, you should practice with it so you have an idea of how powerful it is and how much the settings can change the impact of the flash.

Flash diffusion

The best way to get used to using flash and controlling the power is experimenting. However, the issue of nasty highlights is the other problem the inexperienced user often does not spot at first. Strong highlights raise the light levels so you can see the tonal changes in the colour of the surface the light hits. This helps to define the shape of an object. So, for example, a brighter top on a ball and dark shadows under it help to define the spherical shape.

If the light intensity is too high, particularly on reflective surfaces, the reflected light level will exceed the level the camera can cope with. The highlight then becomes blown out. The light is so bright in that area that it becomes a bright spot where all the detail is lost to pure white. Unfortunately such strong, blown out areas, are severe distractions. In the picture above, the small reflective points, called specular highlights, are also strongly distracting. So what can you do to avoid these nasty effects?

If your power adjustments are not working and you still have blown out spots or highlights then you should consider diffusing the flash. This makes a difference in two ways. The diffused light will scatter the light from the flash over a wider area. This effectively lowers the light intensity even further in the area of the highlight since the light is not hitting it from a direct focused hard light from the flash.

Secondly, diffused light spreads the effect of the light. This makes it more likely to bounce off other surfaces nearby. These surfaces then become multiple mini-light sources. All these sources hitting your subject create a soft light which is much less likely to create specular highlights or very strong colour-destroying highlights.

So how do you do this diffusing? I just love this great flash diffuser. Designed to fit your off-camera flash unit it is an ingenious design and easily adaptable to any flash unit. Check out the Rogue FlashBender 2 – off camera flash. If you have an off-camera flash this is the best. It is the most adaptable diffuser I have ever used. You attach it to the flash with a wrap around grip. The big diffuser stands up above the lens of the flash. It is tough, flexible and creates a lovely daylight-white light. It is superb for portraits and still life work. Coupled with adjustments to the power settings on your flash it gives you excellent control and helps reduces highlights and the effects of hard light direct onto the subject.

For off camera flash there are a range of diffusers available. They are based on various different mounting or reflector principles too. So, you need to look around to see if you can find a diffuser that suits you.

For pop-up flash the options are not as easy. However, I recommend one of two options. I have successfully used ordinary white tissue paper sticky taped over the pop-up flash to both reduce and diffuse flash. However, while this works well, reducing the light by about a full stop, it is a temporary solution. Also, if you use the flash a lot the extra insulation may cause the flash to over heat. So, not for regular use.

My favoured options for pop-up flash diffusion are one of these three methods…

Professor Kobre’s Lightscoop, Standard Version Bounce Flash Device, Universal Model, fits over the Pop-up Flash of most SLR Cameras This diffuser produces a very effective ceiling bounce for the diffusion. However, make sure that in rooms where you use it there is no strong colours on the ceiling or it will cause colour casts.


Gary Fong Puffer – Pop-Up Flash Diffuser for Canon / Nikon / Pentax / Olympus / Panasonic- Lumix pop-up flashes A well reviewed unit, and has the advantage of an easy fit. The other advantage is that it diffuses the light moving forwards. The other two units here bounce the light which puts you slightly at a disadvantage in controlling the flash light direction.


Cateye LETS Flash Reflector/Diffuser Hybrid, for use with DSLR pop-up flashes Although I have not used this one personally, I know some people who have. I have had some very good feedback on this unit and it seems to work effectively in a wide range of situations.


Great shots with flash…

Yes, like everything else in photography, to get good with it, you have to practice use of flash. However, first you need to make sure you can spot the highlights, specular highlights and over-powered flash. Once you know what you are looking for you can adjust your flash power.

The best way to gain control of your flash is reducing the power, or at least adjusting it. Also, the more you soften the harsh, hard flash light the less distracting and natural the highlights will be.

Whatever you decide to do to make your flash manageable do plenty of experimenting to gain control of the light. Don’t forget to Examine Shots Before Shooting Again – “Chimping” to check for highlights. The practice will pay you back in great, well lit shots many times over.

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By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photographers.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.

Easy ways to avoid reflections on eyeglasses

Reflections on eyeglasses can be controlled.

• Party Person •
Reflections on eyeglasses can be controlled. Check the angle of light sources.







Flash creates irritating reflections on eyeglasses.

Flash can be difficult to work with. Especially pop-up flash.


In particular, reflections on eyeglasses make ugly highlights. On-camera flash is directly parallel to the optical path of the camera. The light from the flash travels right down the line, hits the glasses and reflects right back into the lens. This can cause ugly bright reflections, highlights in the eye space of the glasses. Picture ruined.

Get off the optical path

The use of flash should always be off the optical path if you want to avoid red-eye or reflections on eyeglasses. Ensure that you do one of two things. Use an off-camera flash where the flash is off-set to the side on a stand or convenient surface. Alternatively you can redirect the on-camera pop-up flash using a diffuser or some type of reflector. You can find out more about the latter in this post: “Does Pop-Up Flash Ruin Your Shots?”. Both these help to reduce the highlight problem. The light will be on the subject from bouncing off other surfaces. This reduces the direct effect of the light reducing the reflections on eyeglasses from direct rays.

Controlling reflections on eyeglasses

If you use off-camera flash, or any other type of light to illuminate your subject you can get highlights on the glasses. The key to overcoming highlights and reflections on eyeglasses is knowing the simple “Law of the angle of incidence”. The law states…
       • The angle of reflection = the angle of incidence •
Basically, light hits a surface and reflects off again at the same angle. Simple!

The “Law of the angle of incidence” teaches us not to stand so your camera is on the same angle as the light reflecting off the glasses. This applies to any light, not just flash. Remember, that when you line up your camera you should look carefully at your subjects eyeglasses to see if there are any highlights you can avoid. If there are lights reflecting off the eyeglasses then move so the “Law of the angle of incidence” does not apply.

Remember to keep the catchlights

Of course the way that eyes look alive is that wonderful bright spot called a catchlight. As in the image above that feature of a reflection brings vitality to an image. To help preserve that, use a tiny bright point directly in the line of the optical path. If you have an off-camera flash you probably have a white pop-up card on it. You can use that card for making a catchlight. Point the flash beam to bounce off a nearby surface. When the card is up, it reflects a gentle light at the subject. At the same time the main beam of the flash is heading off for the ceiling or walls nearby. That little card on the flash reflects just the right amount of light directly to the eyes of the subject. The small size of the card is critical. It is not bright enough to cause bad reflections on eyeglasses. But it is enough to create that lovely bright spot. The eyes suddenly become alive. They are not blotted out with massive back-reflections.

Avoiding flash reflections on eyeglasses:

In the video Mark Wallace explains the Law with a simple diagram then sets up the ways you can avoid the highlights. Remember, his advice applies to any light, not just off-camera flash or studio lights.
Ep 214: Digital Photography 1 on 1

More about off-camera flash

Off-camera flash is a much more controllable way to light with flash than pop-up flash. If you would like to know more about off-camera flash, including how you can buy effective equipment at affordable prices see this post: Off-camera flash. It provides more information about the flash units and how to use them. There is Also advice on purchasing.

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Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photographer and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photogs.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.
By Damon Guy see his profile on Google+.

Some things you should know about on-camera flash

On-camera flash suffers with a number of problems

On-camera flash suffers with a number of problems. It is best to know what you can and cannot do.

On-camera flash can be harsh and unforgiving – use sparingly.

The flash that comes on-board of most cameras is small, tightly focused and very close to the optical axis of the camera. These things cause problems for your shots.

On-board flash problems with portraiture

The small size of the on-board flash makes it a source of hard light. While that may be fine for some shots, it creates hard, sharply defined shadows. These are particularly unflattering for faces which makes portrait photography difficult. The light from flashes is coloured to imitate the bright bluish light of a sunny day. That colour gives the face a harshly blue tinge – making a person look like they could do with a couple of good nights sleep! On-board flash is also directly in line with the optical axis of the camera, and it is close to the axis as well. Light that is straight-on like that also tends to flatten the face in the image. Worse still, it is in an ideal position to create red-eye. On-board flash is also quite strong when used close up. This tends to create ugly highlights on the face. These large white spots of light on the cheeks, possibly the chin, nose and forehead, are pretty distracting for the viewer.

All these problems add up to pretty unflattering results in portraiture.

On-board flash problems in the open

Happy snappers often don’t realise that they have 100% control over their on-board flash. In fact, most probably only ever use auto-settings. The result? The on-board flash will pop up whenever the camera thinks it is needed. A lot of the time it is not needed or in fact it is a nuisance.

While flash is quite strong close up (for portraits say), light falls off pretty rapidly. With light, as you double the distance the illumination reduces to one quarter of its intensity. The tiny on-board flash will therefore have a strong effect close up. In a large room, or a church for example, it will light everything within a few feet very brightly – then everything after that will be black or very dark. That’s because the light does not have much power after a short distance. So, using flash in a dark church for example will have irritatingly bright fittings and people close up, and you will see little else in the background. As an aside, you will also annoy the people nearby who are worshipping or looking around too.

In an open space on-board flash can be pretty bad news. What you tend to find is that in darker situations the flash will provide a perimeter of illumination very close to you. This will be a bright glow on the ground in front of you and some illumination of the trees and bushes (or buildings etc) around about. The rest will be black or very dark. In brighter situations, well suffice to say, you get the highlight issues again if there is any shiny surface nearby. Both these cases cause artificial light that spoils the shot.

In domestic rooms, smaller spaces and shadows on a brighter day, the on-board flash can be useful if carefully used. However, beware. Any flash in a shadowed place will blow the shadows back in an artificial way. So the charm of the shadowed area is lost where the flash fires. As a result of the bright foreground you also get a deepening of the shadows in the background. This amounts to a pretty contrasty scene. It can therefore look gloomy in your picture.

Some solutions

I don’t have a downer on flash. It’s just that on-board flash is very difficult to work with and it is placed in the worst possible place to generate a flash. Ideally I would advise you to buy an off-camera flash. Even moving the flash away from the camera by one arms length removes many of the problems mentioned. Setting the flash to one side, by only several feet, creates its own shadow texture in your shot. This removes much of the blow-out and shadow flattening effect you get when the flash is in-line with, and close to, the optical axis of your camera.

I know that many people will say they cannot afford to buy an off-camera flash. Well, maybe so – but some of the unbranded ones are really quite cheap. I have two unbranded off-camera flash units and they are excellent. You have to get used to manual adjustments (which you should be doing anyway), but they are just as effective as branded flash units costing up to ten times more. So, maybe you should be thinking about looking around. Here are some units which I have used. Buy one now and improve your flash photography straight away!

If you want to improve your use of on-board flash there are two things to can do to improve the situation…

Turn it off: This is an improvement because, for example, in a church situation you don’t want to create that deep black pit in the background. Many people don’t realise that you can turn off the flash. If you look in your manual it will tell you how. On many point-and-shoot cameras you can turn off the flash on the screen. In most DSLRs, its on the screen too. But it may be a button in its own right, or you can find it in the menus. However it is done, the on/off is easy. Then you can take the shot using one of the other settings, or your camera will calculate a longer exposure. The result will be less contrasts, shadows or black areas. If you find you get more camera shake or softness, use a tripod or rest your camera on something.

Reduce the power: It may seem odd to reduce the power to get a better shot, but you will gain a lot from controlling the light intensity. In portraiture you will reduce the highlights. Less power will also create less of a blue pallor on faces too. Oddly, a lower power shot will also light the background better. It is the contrast of foreground to background light that causes bright close things and black distance. If you lower the power the contrast will not be so steep. Your camera will choose settings (or you can) that will enable it to see into the background with less dark areas.

To reduce the power of your flash look in your manual. It will tell you how to do it. Most flash power settings are available in the menu or on the main control screen of the camera. Most of the time I use the bottom setting. On-board flash is so harsh that I find it is the light touch that is best.

There are two more things you can do. One is to use reflectors, or bounce to change your light in some rooms (See: Does Pop-Up Flash Ruin Your Shots?.

The other idea is to further diffuse your flash. A quick trick is to tape a piece of white tissue paper lightly in front off your flash lens. I leave a gap to allow air to circulate so it does not overheat. The tissue lowers the power and causes greater diffusion. You will have to experiment to see the effect on your camera. I use this to great effect on my little Canon G12.

One possible way to use on-board flash to good effect is as fill-in light. This is a useful way to use your on-board flash, and can be used in conjunction with other off-camera lights. However, it does require practice to get it right. It is almost always used with lower flash power levels too. So it is definitely worth learning how to reduce the flash power.