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Using fill flash as a photographic technique.

Whether your digital camera has a built-in flash or a hot shoe (a hot shoe provides the capability of using an external flash), think of fill flash as the ability for you to decide when the flash is needed. Most people don't think about the flash. When it's dark, the flash is used (either automatically or by choice, depending on the camera). When it's light (outdoors, that is), it's not used. But, there are situations when you may want to use the flash when it's not required strictly due to darkness. When done at these times, it is considered to be fill flash.

When used properly, your outdoor photos will benefit, since the purpose of fill flash is to reduce shadows and balance out the light on the subject. Normally, a camera/flash unit will automatically determine the proper amount of light that the flash emits. This automatic setting is called TTL or (Through The Lens) automatic exposure. The camera generates several low powered flashes and measures the resulting return light to determine exposure settings and flash power However, when used as fill flash, it is better to be able to manually control the amount of light that the camera emits, called flash exposure compensation.
Why is this important? When photographing subjects outdoors, many factors influence the amount and type of light you are working with. A few of the key ones are: the time of day, weather conditions (clear or cloudy), and relative position of the sun.

Fill flash is a technique that allows you to take good pictures in spite of less-than-ideal light , by using fill flash, a controlled (reduced) amount of light is added to the natural outdoor ambient light, thus revealing the detail in the shadows or removing the shadows all together.

For most outdoor photos, the subject is in front of the photographer while the light source (usually the sun) is behind the photographer. In that situation, the subject is generally lit just fine, and no fill-flash is required. However with the sun directly in the subjects face the subject may be forced to squint because of the bright light. When the sun is directly overhead (90 degrees off the horizontal plane) shadows will result. Eyes will be partially in shadow and areas below the nose will be affected by the shadow caused by the nose, commonly called raccoon face. If anyone is wearing a hat, the situation is even worse because the brim of the hat casts a larger shadow covering the face and under exposing the features. Using a fill-flash will throw light into those shadow areas revealing the features to the camera. Here are specific suggestions for what to do if you find yourself in this type of situation:

  • Manually activate your camera's flash.
  • Make sure you are close enough to your subject so that the flash will have an effect.
  • Now we experiment take several sample shots. Then setting the flash exposure compensation value higher or lower depending on the results.
  • When you find one where the picture looks good set up and take the shot.

By using your flash in this manner, you produce additional light on the subject eliminating unwanted shadows and revealing details that would otherwise by lost in darkness.

No flash used. The singers are underexposed because of the strong halogen lights used in the shelter behind the group.

Low power flash added to bring out the detail of the carolers.

low powered flash to light up the face at sunset

Michael S Richter © 2000 - 2008 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED