This photo you see above could never have worked out so well if it hadn’t been for a soft flash fill. You can see that just by looking at the dramatic intensity of light behind him and the light from the front of him. In other words the background light is enough to underexpose the front of him to a large extent, but thanks to this handy little technique, you can see the front of him perfectly, without the background or any other part of the photo being overexposed. There are some overexposed areas to be precise but they are far in the background and out of focus and do not pose a problem.
The ideal light for outdoor photography is that gorgeous soft light either in the early morning or later in the afternoon. This is nice but we can’t limit ourselves to taking photos only in the morning or late afternoon. The seasons can offer us brilliant opportunities too, but unfortunately they have their drawbacks at times. If you are taking photos in the mid of winter then you’ll experience a low angled sun that occurs around 8am and then again at around 4 to 5 pm. And, as a contrast, when summer comes, the sun is higher in the sky earlier in the day. As photographers we’re constantly judging, assessing and concentrating on the light we have to work with. Especially outdoors.
Ironically I find my self using flash fill more in Summer than any other time of the year. Some times when you are outside at that summer sun is against you, you will praise the flash!
You’ll find that if you have the camera setting on automatic and you take a photo under a tree, the front of your subject (such as a persons face) will be too dark, the shaded areas will be blue and the background objects will be perfectly exposed. It doesn’t seem right. Here is where flash fill comes in.
Flash fill simply means using the flash to fill in darker areas of your photo. The flash can be included in your photo and can tone down the harsh, over exposed effect of the natural sunlight. The flash improves the picture by filling in underexposed areas and decreasing contrast.
But don’t overdo it. Flash can be really bright and you don’t want the flash too strong and wash out any areas of your photo. The solution to using flash effectively is keeping the light from the flash relatively fine. The point is to keep your photos looking as if they are evenly lit throughout the photo itself.
Be careful not to overexpose your subject by standing too close. The stronger the flash intensity the further away you can afford to be. Some cameras have a flash level of 1, 2 or 3. On my digital Sony, I can set the flash to low, medium or strong. As an experiment you can set the flash at low and take the photo by standing about four meters away. Do this again with the medium and strong intensity and see the difference.
Often the flash will work through the lens. This is an automated system that measures the light via the light coming through the lens so you don’t have to do as much work. The way this works is that the quantity of light is calculated by the cameras internal meter measuring system. It means that the light from the flash being reflected back off the subject turns it self off when just the right amount of light has been reached. Clever isn’t it?
When you are outside it’s a good thing to watch the light as the day progresses. Depending on what camera you have, you can find adjustment is made on the flash and in other cameras is within the camera itself. In other words in some cameras you have greater control over the flash.
Another way to get beautiful photos using this flash fill technique is using the exposure to work with the flash. When the light in gaining on you and creating more shadows you can keep the intensity of the flash the same and adjust the exposure to compensate as the light changes.
A good way to start with this is to adjust the exposure between minus one and half stops or minus two stops as you take the photos with the flash on. What this ends up doing is fixes annoying shadows and underexposed areas in your photos without causing a washed out look.
When using flash fill to improve the light you may just find that on an overcast day flash fill can greatly improve the look and feel of your photos. Adding even a small amount of flash fill can add a different colour of light. It can add a more yellow, warmer looking light to your photos even on a cloudy day. You can set your exposure to minus two or two and a half stops when using the flash on an overcast day.
This exposure bracketing flash technique requires some degree of patience. It’s a fantastic thing to master when you can. With light that isn’t good for photography, this interesting and clever technique will save you hours at the computer in Photoshop and make your experience a lot more enjoyable.
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