I was completely surprised once regarding a question from a customer while working in a photographic store.

The lady was under the impression that there is a fault with her Canon SX20 bridge camera and said that she had this problem for almost a year and it still does the same thing. She stated that she could not get a decent photo of Table Mountain (a famous landmark in Cape Town, South-Africa) and was very displeased.

Now considering all possibilities and asking a few tactical questions to get to the real information, she said that it was around sunset (dark) and when I suggested it was possible that there was very little light at the time, her defense was that she had the flash on....... to light up the mountain....... and expose a perfect near professional photograph.

I was in shock, as I needed to find a nice way to explain that best results would be achieved by purchasing a tripod (possibly even a remote) and explore the longer exposures instead of trying to rely on auto function with the built in flash popped up. How would you handle this situation and am I the only one or did you experience this before?

  • This is one of the most odd questions I've ever seen here, but with only 30 views it has somehow accumulated 4 answers. Very interesting.
    – dpollitt
    Jan 17 '15 at 0:09

You might direct the complainant to http://edgerton-digital-collections.org/docs-life/wartime-strobe, describing a strobe powerful enough to light a mountain -- so big, it was carried in a B-18 bomber. A photo of the strobe gear is at http://blog.invention.smithsonian.org/2013/11/04/seeing-in-the-dark-aerial-recon-in-wwii/. Of course, that still might not convince her. ;-)


I would direct her to the user manual that would explain details such as the guide number of the flash and the effective range of the flash.

The user manual would also probably explain about enabling higher ISO, and may even mention recommendations to use a tripod for long exposures to avoid camera shake

  • 1
    The "user manual" supplied with most compact cameras these days is laughable.
    – Philip Kendall
    Jan 16 '15 at 12:27
  • @PhilipKendall the user guide on the Canon website then, or the one supplied on the Canon Utilities disc? Jan 16 '15 at 13:10

In a nutshell,

what I did was explain to her that the camera has a sensor, which is sensitive to light (as film is for a film camera) That this image sensor ultimately records the light that passes through the lens and is projected onto it.

In other words, when there is sufficient light, the camera does this with ease. When there is a lack of light in a small area, a flash can be used to help the camera provide additional light. There are a few different options to choose from ranging in price and how much light and additional control they will offer.

This however is not effective to light up the whole mountain, but rather someone standing a few feet away from you. Then we went through the longer exposure explanation, which I don't believe she will do the effort to try, but now is informed about. I suggested that doing an entry level photography course, would help her get the best value from her camera, which is in my honest opinion a very nice camera in it's class and design.

  • 2
    Is this meant to be an answer to your own question (something that is definitely encouraged here) or a second paragraph to your question? If the latter, please edit your question to include it rather than posting it as an answer.
    – Philip Kendall
    Jan 16 '15 at 11:49
  • @PhilipKendall It is the answer to my own question (the best one I could come up with in full confrontation of a customer) and then I also recognize that there could be several ways to handle the question and different perspectives could possibly lead to other suitable solutions. Which is why I encourage people to answer this question in their own way, so I may potentially learn from this. Knowledge is power. Jan 16 '15 at 14:23
  • In that case, I'd suggest editing out the last sentence which makes it more of a question than an answer. Also: please copy edit both the question and the answer - they're currently just a wall of text. Paragraphs are good.
    – Philip Kendall
    Jan 16 '15 at 14:25
  • @PhilipKendall If you agree with my answer, I would appreciate an upvote or if you would like to give your own answer/solution I'd be happy to read that too. I noticed your comments on my first question too and find you to be knowledgeable, appreciate the contribution. Jan 16 '15 at 14:28
  • Personal views ahead. I have pretty strict standards for upvoting self-answered questions - they need to be excellent to get an upvote, and at the moment while the content here is good, the presentation drags it down too far.
    – Philip Kendall
    Jan 16 '15 at 14:30

I would say something along the line that in order to have a well-exposed picture, you should think of the camera like a bathtub, with light instead of water. In order to have a pleasant bath, you need enough water to cover you without overflowing the tub. Optionally, you can shrink the bathtub, so you need less water to fill it up, but you'll have a less pleasant bath.

So for her case, in order to get the correct amount of light, she can do some combination of making sure there's enough light to take the picture quickly, she can increase the amount of time she gives the camera to capture the light that is there, or she can increase the ISO. A camera flash isn't enough to illuminate the image appropriately; I'm not sure how many floodlights she'd need to do that, but it would be a lot. Increasing the ISO will let her make more use of whatever light is available, but at the expense of noise. So the final option is to increase the amount of time she's gathering light, which involves a tripod, and possibly some other equipment.

Then you run into the problem that she's probably shooting in automatic mode, so making some of those adjustments will be beyond her. But the bathtub analogy may be enough to get started.


This one is sort of a frequent question. I have 2 photos on my computer, one taken with a flash, and one taken on a tripod; the actual subject is a castle on top of a hill taken from another hill somewhere about 500 meters from the castle. That is what I show, and next I ask do I need to go into GNs etc. Most folks are satisfied with the demonstration.

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