To Flash or Not To Flash – That Is the Question

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Yes, you have guessed it. I am going to bore you once again with the topic, “Whether to Flash or Not?” This is a matter of little import to those who do not regularly submerge their precious cameras in high-pressure saltwater, something which surely violates fundamental laws of nature and sanity.

The vast majority of people snapping away today depend on their cameras to decide whether to flash or not. I am against this notion, since it produces countless nasty-looking photos Alas, I am a voice crying in the wilderness. My word on the matter is simple:  Learn how to make the flash on your camera submit to your will and then learn when you need it and when you’d get a getter image without it. Many people have thanked me for this entirely unsolicited advice. Your mileage may vary.

So, what’s the big deal underwater? Who cares?

Well, you do care, if you are interested in seeing what a given critter actually looks like underwater. If you just want a pretty picture with bright colours, then you turn on your flash and you will have far less work to do on your computer to get a usable, if misleading image. I usually want my images to display to you what I saw. Here is (yet another) example, a Divaricate Tree Coral (Dendronephthya roxasia):

Divaricate Tree Coral (Dendronephthya roxasia)

I think that it is quite pretty as it is. Moreover, it is exactly as it appeared to  me when I saw it at about 25 metres at Barracuda Point,  which is lousy with the things.

From the same position, I took this image with the flash turned on:

Divaricate Tree Coral (Dendronephthya roxasia)

Well, that too is a pretty image, but it’s not what I saw. One has to remember that, the deeper you go, the less of the spectrum is left. Only blue and a little greenish light penetrate more than a few metres. So, everything looks blue. Your eyes magically adjust to most of this and restore some balance. However, when you add the sunlight colours of the flash, which is designed to mimic sunlight (its colour temperature), then you completely upset the colours which are displayed in the resulting image. In effect, you have shown the object as it would appear at the surface.

Here’s another one:

Palm Coral (Clavularia sp.) - Available Light -

That’s a Palm Coral (some species of Clavularia)  which has appeared here before. It was shot in with the natural lighting. Check the delicate green shades in the centres, especially around the edges of the clump, where the exposure is a little less. This is a very pretty coral with delicate nuances of colour.

In this flash shot that I got last Saturday for comparison, the nuances are overpowered by the sunlight-white light of the flash:

Palm Coral (Clavularia sp.)

All of the pretty greens are lost.

Here is one more example. This one is a little harder to justify. This is our old friend and regular on Madang – Ples Bilong Mi,  the Spotted Shrimpgoby (Amblyeleotris guttata):

Spotted Shrimpgoby (Amblyeleotris guttata) - Available Light

For comparison, I made one exposure with natural light and one with flash. By now, I’m sure that you can see the difference. The shot above is flash-less.

This one is with the flash turned on. Again, it is not an unpleasing effect. In this case, it does score some points. Because it intensifies the colours that are the distinctive markings of the fish (primarily the orange spots and the dark pectoral fins, not to mention the clown-like eyes), it helps one to remember the primary identification features:

Spotted Shrimpgoby (Amblyeleotris guttata) - Flash

If you memorise the image above, you’ll have no trouble identifying the species when you are cruising over the sandy bottom.

You just have to remember that the first example image, without the flash, is how it is actually going to appear.

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34 Responses to “To Flash or Not To Flash – That Is the Question”

  1. Robert@PNG Says:


    Taking your subscribe to comments for a test run.


  2. Mari Says:

    Oh…once again such beautiful photos of coral. Amazing underwater photography! Love your pics Jan.


  3. Mari Says:

    Actually, I’ve programmed my small Sony cam for no flash photos. On my D80 I was just using the flash until recently when I invested in a flash gun. Now that was worth every penny. My pics of the Bilum show and Dr Mel’s performances came out really great. It is tricky but I’d wack up the ISO instead of the flash. I like flash but can’t stand the shadows. Indoors yes, certainly flash helps. Good luck…your pics are great flash or flashless.

  4. MadDog Says:

    Report back to me, please, your findings.

    I love the Related Posts thingie. I got that from your list of plugins, I think.

  5. MadDog Says:

    Thanks, Mari. I appreciate getting kind comments from regular readers. It make this dungeon of a computer room seem a happier place.


  6. MadDog Says:

    It’s interesting that the more you study the technical aspects of photograph, the more you find that lighting is the most critical factor in a good photo. I was lucky that my Dad taught me that as a child. It’s always been second nature to me to move subjects around, prop up pieces of cardboard, use flash or bounce flash, or whatever I need to do to get the best lighting effects that I possibly can before I shoot. It saves so much fooling around in post-processing, if the lighting is right to begin with. An auxilary flash is a very good addition to the tools of a keen amateur photographer. One that can be separated from the camera (a slave) or at least tilted up to the ceiling for bounce flash is even better. Cameras with TTL flash control work great with bounce flash. You might try that to get rid of your shadow problem.

  7. Robert@PNG Says:


    Subscribe to comments thing-a-ma-jig worked fine.


  8. MadDog Says:

    Cool. Thanks, man. Never hurts to check.

    You waiting with baited breath for 2.9? I’m wondering just how much image manipulation will be included.

  9. Robert@PNG Says:


    How did you guess?

    I always wait with baited breath for the next version of WP. I’m not into imaging as much as you so I will let you be the judge of that one. Personally, I prefer to do all my image manip offline and then upload the final cut. For us “slow” folks here in PNG – doing image manip over the net might end up costing more than a peanut butter sandwich.

    Below is a list of new features that have been locked in for 2.9. The first beta is due out late this month with the final release late November.

    I particularly like the widget outside of the sidebar feature and the custom post types (see below). As before I will probably get edgy and install a beta or RC before the final release hits the shelves.

    Here’s a list of features:

    # Post Thumbnails: add an image to be automatically displayed with the post in various views (main page, archives, etc.). The WordPress logo on this post is added with this feature, plus a filter I added to my theme’s functions.php file.

    # “Trash” status: deleted items such as posts, pages, and comments now go to the “trash”, and can be recovered later, much like delete files in most modern operating systems.

    # Image editing: basic image manipulation for your media library. You can rotate, flip, resize, and crop images.

    # Widgets outside of sidebars: there is a new template tag called the_widget(), which allows you to put a widget anywhere in your theme.

    # Comment metadata: plugins and themes can now take advantage of arbitrary metadata for comments, just as for posts, pages, and users. This should make it easier to create plugins to highlight “popular” or “hot” comments, among other things.

    # Custom post types: general support for post types other than ‘post’, ‘page’, and ‘attachment’. This plus the custom taxonomy support we already have will go far to address those to like to claim that WordPress is not a ‘real’ CMS. We’ll be able to organize content in ways that I can’t even think of right now (I need more time to brainstorm).

    # Media Embeds: I haven’t had a chance to look over this all the way yet, but it’s basically Viper’s Video Quicktags folded into core (minus the editor buttons at this time), including support for the oEmbed standard. With oEmbed, you can just paste in the URL for a page containing embeddable media, and it can auto-detect the proper way to embed it in your post. Supported services so far appear to be YouTube, Google Video, PollDaddy, and DailyMotion. Plus, theoretically, any service that supports oEmbed, which currently includes YouTube, Flickr, Vimeo, Viddler, Qik, and Hulu, among others (according to the oEmbed site). Whoah, awesome! I’ll post a demo of this soon, but you can read Viper007Bond’s post now for more details.

    # register_theme_directory(): plugins can now add additional theme directories to be searched. This means that a theme can basically come bundled with its own themes. I’ve already got a project that’s been on the back-burner that can use this feature. I think we might seem some nifty uses appearing in the future.

    Check ya,


  10. MadDog Says:

    Sounds like some good stuff coming up. I particularly like the Media Embeds. I have to keep a separate user account and remember to use it for YouTube posts, so that I remember not to touch the post with the visual editor, which blows away any embedded video.

    How do you back your site up? I live in terror that something will blow my site away. I do daily backups of every tickbox of my database and, when I think of it, I FTP my whole site down to my computer. Is there anything else that I should be doing? How horrible would it be if I woke up one morning and it was badly hacked or dissappeared?


  11. Robert@PNG Says:


    (You keep picking my brain like this – you realise I’m going to hassle for a ride on the hog next time I’m up your way!)

    Backups!! Better “in terror” (and paranoid) than sorry. You and me have been around long enough to understand the benefit of doing frequent backups.

    My approach to WP backups…

    I was using a backup plugin called “WP-DBManager” – allowed me to schedule daily/weekly backups and have them compressed and automatically emailed to me. I have since disabled the plugin and have started doing manual backups via phpmyadmin. I am comfortable enough with mysql to do a manual restore in the event of a crash. Besides I’m wanting to consolidate and trim down on plugins as each one makes for extra load on the server.

    Is there anything else you need to do?

    The DB backup only backs up the database and no content from the standard WP folders (eg: content/includes etc…) This means that the DB Backup will not contain your images. The FTP download you are doing of the entire site basically covers that one.

    So… DB Backup + FTP copy = everything is backled up (even including those “crabs” of yours!).


  12. Robert@PNG Says:

    And yes…

    In the event that your site does crash… you will inevitably experience 2x feelings:

    1) An intense sense of relief that everything you need to rebuild the site is sitting there on your local drive.

    2) Extreme terror (worse than being held up by raskol!) at now being faced the task of bringing the site back up and not knowing where to start.


  13. MadDog Says:

    I got hacked once before so that I could not upload images. It cost me a fortune to get that fixed. Part of the expense was moving from a to a self-hosted site.

    I’m experimenting with a program called SyncBackPro ( There’s a 30 day trial version available. I have it set up to completely sync all of the files from my /wordpres directory on HostMonster to a folder on my HDD every night at midnight. Hopefully, along with my daily MySQL backups of every table that I can find, somebody could rebuild the site.

    Have you updated to 2.8.5 yet? I always get a tight feeling in my gut when I hit that “Upgrade Automatically” button.


  14. MadDog Says:

    I mentioned SyncBackPro in another comment. I’ll let you know how that works out.

    I’m using the same (or similar) database backup program to email to me daily a full backup of my MySQL stuff. I can’t think of anything else that I should be doing, except to pray daily for my precious blog. (which I pretty much do already)


  15. Robert@PNG Says:


    Oh well… at least we know that your “Subscribe to comments” works!!

    Sounds like you got backups under control. My approach is to backup the DB regularly and then to backup my WordPress folder whenever I upgrade WP or my theme. Let me know how you go with SyncBackPro (I wander if they have a Linux version?).

    You could always do a manual upgrade if that made you feel more comfortable. I think we all get the heebee-geebies when we’re about to hit the “do or die” button. All one can do is prepared for the worst (backups) and hope for the best.

    Yep… within one hour of 2.8.5 being unleashed – I was already there. Can’t help myself! Did a post on it last night:

    How to secure WordPress even tighter? There’s a couple of good plugins that will assist and some great articles through the Codex and other WP sites that you might like to check out. Needless to say that it’s always a good idea to keep WP at the leatest version.

    At the end of the day… we’re not NASA or Defense – there would little motivation for hackers to sneak into our sites and cause havoc.

    Praying doesn’t help when it comes to technology… just the preparedness and proactive actions (eg: backups).


    PS. you never did get back to me about that ride on your “hog”!

  16. MadDog Says:

    You’d be surprised how many things I’ve fixed by praying over them. If prayer and all other means are exhausted, I utilise the “MadDog FixALL Technique” which amounts to lifing the item precisely 1 inch (25mm will do) from the workbench and dropping it. If it doesn’t work with the power off, then do it again with the power on.

    After my first full resynch tonight proves successful (fingers crossed), I’ll hit the magic upgrade button tomorrow and hold my breath.

    The hog will not come to you. You have to come to the hog. Actually, it’s an 883 Sportster, so the ‘hog’ moniker is probably not suitable. Ride it, you may.


  17. A Dog's Breakfast of Images | Madang - Ples Bilong Mi Says:

    […] roxasia),  as any fool can see:The shot above is similar to one that I showed to you a few days ago. (Except […]

  18. Robert@PNG Says:


    I’ve got a lump of wood sitting behind our front door just for such occasions. Unfortunately it has a habit of “breaking” things rather than fixing them. I will be trying your “drop” technique as the need arises.

    And here I was thinking you had a real harley!!


    PS. Let me know how you go with the upgrade!

  19. MadDog Says:

    REAL HARLEY! Why you &*($)@#!&*()@! Think about the roads here and ask youself if you’d like to ride a hardtail around all day.

    The Sportster was born for a place like this. The only problem is that you can’t stop anywhere. It draws a mob.


  20. Robert@PNG Says:


    Apologies friend.
    My shout for a “wee dram” next time we catch up.


  21. MadDog Says:

    You’re on with the wee dram.

    My ire was exagerated for the sake of drama. When you have a boring job you have to go a little nuts every day to stay sane.


  22. Robert@PNG Says:


    How did the upgarde go?
    Haven’t heard so I assume… sweet as!


  23. MadDog Says:

    I just got my first backup done last night with SyncBackPro and I have a database backup, so I’m about to press the magic button.

    Okay, I’m back – it took about five seconds. Everything still works

  24. Robert@PNG Says:


    When you hit that magic button… and the genie appears – please send him/her my way.


  25. Robert@PNG Says:

    Hi M,

    In relation to your concern for tight security around WordPress noticed the following plugin recently made available and one you might like to take a closer look at:



  26. MadDog Says:

    I had a look at the page. I think that I’ll give it a try.

    Hey, I just added WP-SUPERCACHE and got rid of the Feedjit and ClustrMaps widgets and my site loads much faster. Now I’m wondering about IShare and Google Analytics. I see the load process stumble on ishare quite often and always on Google Analytics. Since my web host gives me detailed visitor statistics, I’m wondering if there is any other aspect of Google Analytics that’s really useful enough to allow it to keep on slowing down my site load. I can’t see that it does anything besides compiling the visitor data, so If I’m getting that from my web host, what do I need it for? Also, I have no idea how to find out if anybody is actually using IShare. I’m thinking about dumping both of the plugins.

    Any ideas about that?

  27. Robert@PNG Says:


    You’re on the ball old mate!

    I recently tested a plugin DB Cache Reloaded and compared it against WP Super Cache. Found DB Cache Reloaded to give me better cache hits and therefore better CPU performance. Another thing I do is I run compression which has also had a positive impact on faster load times. Having said that WP Super Cache is an excellent plugin and does the job well for most.

    Regarding stats – I traditionally ran the “ stats” plugin for data collection. Together with a couple of extra plugins was able to extract things like number of visitors and most viewed posts. I recently ditched these stats plugins and now just run Google Analytics.

    Most bloggers go nuts over stats and can literally spend hours just sitting in front of there screen watching counts go up (or not). I have changed my tack on this and no longer care. In the end I know that that if my site is SEO friendly and I produce regular and quality content the visitors will follow. Who gives a shit if its 100 a day or a thousand?

    So… right now I just run Google Analytics for stats collection and if I ever get the urge the have a peek at the who and where from of my visitors I can go the GA site and have a squizz.

    My suggestion MadDog that if your host already provides soemthing and this is sufficient for you then don’t bother about others. Like you said the more that loads up on a page the slower the load times.

    Cheers bro,


    PS. Sure looking forward to that “wee dram” we discussed last week. I must make it up to Madang soon.

  28. MadDog Says:

    Thanks for that Robert. What compression plugin are you using? I tried one and it bombed completely.

    I’m going to dump Google Analytics.

  29. Robert@PNG Says:


    We’re mainly talking here about CSS compression. So the size of the files sent from the host to the client can be reduced and thus increase performance.

    A great site to check what benefits you might gain from turning compression on is:

    Myself, I have enabled compression within my PHP configuration. In your case WP Super Cache has a little box you can tick about half way down that turns it on and off. It all depends on your host as to whether you can turn it on or not. Bluehost (my host) and Hostmonster (your host) are both owned and run by Matt Heaton – I’m assuming therefore that you will be able to take advantage of it within the WP Super Cache config.

    Try it and worst case is it doesn;t work and you turn it off.


    PS. This old post here’s turning out to be a bit of a WP forum.

  30. MadDog Says:

    Well, that’s an easy fix. I clicked that box when I set up W-SUPERCACHE and it works fine, so I guess I’m already getting as much compression as I need. I can’t believe how much faster my pages load now.

    Your advice is free. I don’t mind getting it here.

  31. Robert@PNG Says:

    Nothing in PNG is for free mate!!

    One day…
    I would really like to share a sunrise, a cigar and “wee dram” with ya. (just for starters!!). An yes and then there’s the …rley!!


    PS. Although nothing is for free in PNG… the unexpected always abounds!!

  32. MadDog Says:

    You want a wee dram and a cigar at SUNRISE? I thought that I was a wild man.

    I’m game. As long as I don’t have to go to work.

  33. Robert@PNG Says:


    Perhaps a better idea would be to start at sunset and then still be around to witness sunrise!!


  34. MadDog Says:

    Yeah, you can guard me while I sleep. A couple of those wee drams send me right off to lullabye land. Just be sure to wake me up at first light so I don’t miss a surise shot.