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Q&A: What Is a "Front Curtain" Flash?

I have a Nikon CoolPix 5000 and I have had a run of severely underexposed photos. When I open these pictures in Nikon View, the info panel tells me that the flash mode is "front curtain." I have read all about flash modes in your newsletters, but I found nothing about "front curtain." Can you explain this and tell me if this could cause severe underexposure?

--Jamie Shafer, Ridgefield, Connecticut

Certainly, Jamie. It's worth mentioning that you can get a lot of information about your photos--resolution, exposure setting, flash mode--from your image editor after the pictures are back on the desktop. In Paint Shop Pro, choose Image, Image Information, and click on the EXIF Information tab; in Adobe Photoshop Elements, choose File, Image Info and pick the EXIF section. As you can see, your digital camera records a lot of data about your photo with your JPEG images.

Not all cameras record detailed flash information; but if yours does, you might see an entry called "front curtain." That's a fancy way of saying the flash fired normally. "Rear curtain" flash fires the flash at the end of an exposure, while "front curtain" fires the flash right away.

That said, the front curtain mode is not responsible for your underexposures, since it's just another way of saying you had the flash set to its ordinary mode. I suspect you're shooting at subjects that are too far away (most digital camera flash units are only good for about ten feet) or you're using a programmed exposure mode that's not leaving the shutter open long enough. The least likely possibility is that there's a problem with your camera and it needs service.

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