Most pictures of people made
outdoors in sunlight suffer from dark splotchy shadow areas on faces,
particularly the eyes. There's too much contrast; the camera's sensor
or film cannot capture detail in both the bright highlights and the
dark shadows at the same time.
We've all seen these pictures:
dark featureless faces, black eyes and way too-bright highlight areas.
The quick and dirty solution is to
use fill-flash. This will simply puff a little bit of light into the
shadows, reducing the contrast so that the camera can record a picture
that looks "normal". This is an easy photographic technique (nowadays)
that does not deserve its aura of mystery. Photo
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Back in the day, however,
fill-flash could be a confusing technique because there are really two
exposures being computed for fill-flash pictures: the camera's
exposure setting and also the flash's exposure setting. So
the photographer needed to compute the general overall camera exposure,
set the camera shutter speed and lens aperture, then calculate how much
flash power was needed and set the flash output setting.
Today though, most modern cameras
and flashes make these calculations automatically, and for the most
part, accurately. Here's how to do it:
FILL-FLASH WITH POINT AND
SHOOT (P&S) CAMERAS
For bright sunlight, make sure
you're using a low ISO setting or low ISO film in the range of 50 to
100. Set the camera to "Auto" or "Program". Also, for now,
select a multi-pattern, wide area type exposure metering setting. This
is sometimes the camera's default setting. Different camera makers use
different terminology for this selection (Matrix, ESP, Honeycomb,
Multi-mode, Evaluative Metering, etc). Typically you're given three
metering choices: spot, center weighted and "X". Choose "X", but check
your manual to be sure. <
< Photo details
Then turn the camera's flash on;
use the "fill-flash", "forced flash" or similar setting. Usually the
fill-flash icon looks like a lightning bolt but check the manual to be
sure. It's normally not the "auto" flash setting that you would
normally use for indoor photography. Make sure you don't select any red
eye reduction along with the flash selection.
Many P&S cameras also allow
you to tweak in a little extra or a little less fill-flash. Never mind
this feature for the time being.
Now you're ready to make pictures
using fill-flash with your P&S camera. Just make sure you're close
enough to your main subject so the flash can reach it. Most P&S
built in flashes can reach up to 8-12 feet in bright sunlight at a 100
ISO camera setting. Photo
For basic photos you don't need to
do anything different than if you were not using a flash. Compose your
shot, click-flash. The camera automatically computes a basic exposure,
and simultaneously computes the flash exposure needed. This will work
flawlessly for most pictures. For any quirks you may experience, see
"Fill-Flash problem solving" below.
FILL-FLASH WITH SLR AND EXTERNAL
FLASH OR POP-UP
This is much the same as using a
P&S camera. Set camera to "auto" or "program" exposure
mode. Use a low ISO setting or low ISO film in the range of 50 to 100.
For now, select a multi-pattern, wide area type exposure metering
setting. This is sometimes the camera's default setting. Different
camera makers use different terminology for this selection (Matrix,
ESP, Honeycomb, Multi-mode, Evaluative Metering, etc). Typically you're
given three metering choices: spot, center weighted and "X". Choose
"X", but check your manual to be sure.
Next, turn on the external flash
unit or pop-up flash. Normally there's no setting specifically for
fill-flash. Make sure the external flash is set to TTL
(through-the-lens). Some external flashes have a button that tells the
flash you're using it in bright light. This button sometimes looks like
the sun, a globe with radiating dashes extending out from its
perimeter. Press this button if available but check the manual to be
Now you're all set to make
fill-flash pictures with your SLR and external flash unit or pop-up
flash. Be sure to keep your main subject within flash range. External
flashes have much more flash power than built-in P&S flashes.
Depending on your model you may be able to light your subject from as
far away as thirty feet or more. One more thing: make sure your camera
shutter speed is no higher than the maximum "flash synch" speed,
typically 1/125 to 1/300 of a second. Check your manual for the maximum
synch speed of your particular camera.
For basic fill-flash photos simply
make your picture like you normally would. The camera automatically
computes a basic exposure, and simultaneously computes the flash
exposure needed. This will work flawlessly for most pictures. For any
quirks you may experience, see "Fill-Flash problem solving" below.
FILL-FLASH PROBLEM SOLVING
Flash doesn't fire every
time - The flash needs to recharge (recycle) between shots.
Sometimes this can take several seconds. You may be trying to fire the
flash before it's charged. Remember that the further your main subject
is from the camera, the more flash power is used and the longer the
recycle time. Also, flash is a real battery drainer. Use freshly
recharged batteries, or fresh non-rechargeable batteries. Change them
often. It's good policy to have at least one spare rechargeable battery
with you at all times, and / or many non-rechargeable batteries. Photo
Too much flash, subject is
too brightly lit - Most flashes do a good job of making a
fill-flash picture look natural. They throw just enough light into the
scene, usually slightly less than the main exposure, so that the main
subject looks normal. Sometimes, however, the flash brightens the
subject too much. Here's an easy fix:
If your camera or flash allows "flash
exposure compensation" set the adjustment to minus 1 stop for starters
and try that. This tells the flash to output one stop less exposure. If
still too bright try minus 1 2/3 stops. You can tweak it more or less
from there. Personal taste accounts for a lot with fill-flash. Whatever
looks good to you is the right exposure. With some camera / flash
combinations I routinely adjust the flash to minus 1 or 1 1/3 stops.
But some equipment makes fine fill-flash pictures with no adjustment.
How much flash adjustment is a matter of taste, yes, but also depends
on your own equipment. Cameras and flashes differ widely in how they
make fill-flash pictures. You need to experiment.
If your camera or flash doesn't
allow for flash exposure compensation try this: move slightly out of
flash range and zoom in a little to regain your original composition.
Make a fill-flash picture. If still too much flash, back up a little
more (and zoom in a little more to regain your original composition).
And so on. This technique allows some flash to reach your subject, but
not a full dose, resulting in a little manual "minus" flash
Subject too dark, not
enough flash - This could be one of two things. The flash may
be firing before it's fully recharged. Usually there's a blinking light
that indicates the flash is charging; when fully charged it glows
steady. Alternately, the light may simply not glow when recharging and
glow when charged. Check your manual. In any case, let the flash fully
recharge before making another picture.
The other possible reason is a
very bright background, like an expanse of sky, will cause the flash to
reduce output. The remedy is simple. If your camera allows "flash
exposure compensation" set the adjustment to plus 1 stop and try that.
If you need more try plus 1 2/3 stops and tweak it more or less from
there. This tells the flash to send more light than it normally would.
If your camera or flash doesn't
allow flash exposure compensation try moving or zooming in tighter to
cut out the offending brightness.
These are the basics of
fill-flash. This simple but neglected photo technique can dramatically
improve your outdoor people photography. With practice you'll become
familiar with different photo situations and know instinctively when,
or if, you need to use flash exposure compensation and how much is
needed. My final advice: always carry plenty of batteries, including
spare rechargeable batteries if that's what you use.
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