Use Fill Flash for Better Outdoor Photos
When you think of using your flash, what “conditions” come to mind? Is it dark rooms and nighttime shots of people? Do you use your flash outside during the daytime? One of the best techniques you can learn to improve your shots is using fill flash.
For some outdoor photos, the subject is facing the light source (usually the sun) behind the photographer. In that situation, the subject is often lit well and fill-flash is not necessary. Earlier or later in the day usually works out well for this.
However, in the middle parts of the day, when the sun is directly overhead eyes will be partially in shadow and areas below the nose will be in shadow (or an entire side of the face). If your subject is wearing a hat, then the whole face might be in shadow.
Sometimes, even in earlier parts of the day, depending on subject placement you will still get unwanted shadows. Moving the subject for optimal light is not always an option. Considerations such as non-distracting backgrounds or a specific background you want to include for setting the surroundings will dictate the positioning of your subject. For stationary subjects you obviously will often not have a choice to place the subject elsewhere.
Fill flash is a technique used to lighten shadow areas outdoors. It can produce fantastic results by filling in shadows on faces, and balancing the light in the scene. It’s also used when the background is significantly brighter than the subject.
How to Set Your Camera
To use fill flash, the aperture and shutter speed are adjusted to correctly expose the background, and the flash is fired to lighten the foreground. You can use a speedlight in the hot shoe of your DSLR or the on-board flash.
Some speedlights have a balanced flash mode. For example, Nikon's i-TTL (intelligent through-the-lens) Balanced Fill-Flash automatically balances the output of the Nikon Speedlight and the scene's ambient light.
Most point and shoot cameras include a mode that forces the flash to fire, even in bright light.
Depending on how far your subject is, the flash will sometimes overexpose the subject, especially at close range. To overcome this, simply use the flash exposure compensation available on your DSLR. If you have a point and shoot, your camera may also have this mode, if not, use standard exposure compensation.
The opposite is also true, you may experience underexposure (particularly with a very bright background) so you may need to dial in some positive compensation.
The key really is in using the flash exposure compensation and a good metering on the scene. With practice you’ll learn to use shutter speed, aperture, ISO and flash to gain maximum control.
Here are some things to keep in mind when using fill flash.
Flash Sync Speed
When using flash outside you may find yourself eventually bumping up against the camera’s flash sync speed. Essentially, over a certain shutter speed the camera is unable to properly sync the shutter and the flash. The results vary, and you can end up with odd results.
What to do
If you have a speedlight
Some models of cameras and compatible speedlights will allow you to shoot effectively with flash at much faster shutter speeds. This is accomplished by the flash unit delivering several smaller bursts of light instead of one large burst. The downside is that the flash is of less effective intensity since the individual bursts are lower powered than the normal capability of the flash unit.
Cameras and speedlights that allow high speed sync will have a section in their manual instructing you how to set your equipment up to take advantage of the feature.
Preparing for this article my daughter posed on our deck for me. Notice the harsh shadows without the flash. These pictures were taken at 7:15am. with my camera in aperture priority. The images are marked where I used a speedlight (in balanced, TTL-BL mode), or on-board flash (lens hood removed) and what flash compensation I used (if any).
This was not a perfectly controlled test, but it should give you an idea of the possibilities of fill-flash.
No comments posted.
Recent PostsHow to Take Great Birthday Party Pictures Taking Pictures in the Snow How to Take Night Cityscape Pictures Use Fill Flash for Better Outdoor Photos Where Did I Put That Picture? A Guide for Managing Your Image Files The Decisive Moment (When to Click) How To Photograph Fireworks 8 Quick and Easy Ways to Improve Your Photos AFTER the Shot - A Beginner’s Guide to Editing How to Take Sharp Pictures ISO (Exposure Series Part 5 of 5)