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Take steps to prevent poorly lighted pictures

Several years ago, Minolta offered a camera called "The Talker." One of the camera's prompts was "Too dark, use flash." This was heard in low-light situations. If the prompt was ignored, the picture turned out underexposed.

For the record, "The Talker" is no longer being offered.Yet, low-light is just one cause of an underexposed picture. There are other reasons why photographers get poor prints. Here are some reasons and ways to avoid getting defective results:

-- Impatience. If you take a picture before the flash is fully recycled, usually indicated by a "flash ready light" on the camera or in the viewfinder, you will get a weak flash burst. So, be patient between exposures and wait for the signal that it's OK to shoot.

-- Poor film processing. Film processors can make a mistake, and print a picture that is too dark (as well as too light). If you suspect that a dark picture was correctly exposed, take your print and negative back to your film processor and ask for a remake. In most cases, you'll get a remake at no charge,

-- Wrong film. In low-light situations, you need a medium or fast film in the ISO 400 to 800 range. As the ISO number increases, so does the film's sensitivity to light. So, if you use ISO 100 film in low light, don't expect natural-light pictures to be bright.

-- Finger over the flash. Accidentally holding your finger over a camera's built-in flash can happen, especially when you are in a hurry to take a picture. When holding your camera, make sure you don't have a finger over the flash, which will reduce the light reaching your subject.

-- Defective camera. Camera parts wear down and wear out, especially the shutter mechanism, which controls the amount of light that enters the lens. If your shutter speed is "off," you may get an underexposed picture. Make sure that before you take important pictures, at home or on vacation, run a test roll through your camera to make certain everything is OK.

And the next time you get a picture that is too dark, think about all the possible causes -- and then think about how you can improve the results.