This post is a new instalment for me. I have decided as of today I will – on and off – provide you with simple tips here on this blog, tips that can improve your photography. Of course there aren’t really any simple and easy tricks that will magically result in great photography. Nevertheless, there are techniques and small secrets of the trade that may be handy to know about to handle certain situations or just to increase your creative toolbox. This is a little bit of an experiment for me, so please let me know what you think of it.
I will start this instalment with showing a helpful way of using either the camera’s built in flash or an external flash mounted on the camera. The thing with either types of flashes is that they provide a very harsh and usually very unattractive light. In addition, the light is completely flat since it radiates along the camera’s axis, thus not modulating the forms of the subject at all. Actually, the way most people use the flash on the camera is not particularly favourable. You know, it’s indoor, it’s dark, and to help capture a picture you turn on the flash. The result is usually – and in all honesty – awful, for instance with the people in the foreground burned out completely by the flash light with white faces and every thing else going pitch black. In situations like that, I would rather crank up the ISO and forget all about the flash – or use a flash method I will get back to in a later post.
Today I will show a way of using the flash when most people don’t think it’s necessary to use a flash. The little flash on the camera can really come in handy when the sun is shining from a clear blue sky. Not that you need more light, but maybe you have noticed the dark shadows the sun often creates – particular around midday? Like a hat shading the face or just the eye sockets growing dark in their own shadows.
If you, in a situation like this, use just a little pop of the flash, it will provide enough light into those shaded areas and bring out enough information to make them more than just black holes in the photo. At the same time it will not be noticeable in areas lit directly by the sun. There are different ways to accomplish this. On a point-and-shoot camera, you will usually look for a setting that’s either called slow sync or fill-in-flash. Just turn it on and let the camera do the rest. It can’t be more simple than that. Of course, you have no control over the amount of light the flash emits, but the result is usually very pleasant.
On some cameras, particularly on more advanced ones, and certainly on most external flashes, you can decided for yourself how much the flash should light up the shadows. You can dial the amount of flash light up and down usually in increments of 1/3 exposure values (E.V.) up to +3 E.V. or down to -3 E.V. The trick is not to make the flash too apparent, only to add light in the shadows and not in the areas that are already lit by the sunlight. I usually go for something between -2 E.V. or -3 E.V. Set the camera on program mode or aperture-priority mode and let it handle the rest. If you have a green or fully automatic mode, make sure you don’t use this since it will overrun what you are trying to accomplish. I also recommend not using shutter speed-priority mode to make sure you don’t accidentally use too fast a shutter speed, faster than the camera can synchronize the shutter with the flash.
One more thing: Remember that the flash doesn’t have a range of more than a couple of yards or meters. Anything beyond that will not be affected by the flash.
That’s it. I don’t always use this method in harsh sunshine – it depends on what I want to achieve. Sometimes I want the shadows to grow dark. Furthermore, with editing programs such as Lightroom and Photoshop you can easily lighten the shadows in post-production, but the result is quite different from using fill-in-flash at the time of capture. With the latter, you bring out more colours and saturation in the shadows. In addition, when photographing people, the little extra flash creates an attractive sparkle in their eyes (just look at the picture above and you will see two white spots in both eyes. It’s the reflections of the flash) .
54 thoughts on “Flash Away the Shadows”
Very useful tips. Thank you Otto!
I am glad you find it helpful. Thanks for the feedback.
So that’s what ‘fill in flash’ means! Very helpful tip and I look forward to practicing – thanks.
I hope you will like the result. 🙂
Great tip. There are times I could use this tip, I will have to look at my nikon and get it figured out before I need it.
It shouldn’t be too difficult to find out. But if you can’t get it, let me know. 🙂
Good tip. I haven’t thought about using flash in the daylight. I don’t like using flash at all if I can avoid it…so I will have to explore what my camera has. I can see now there would be times it would be helpful.
The good thing about fill-in-flash is that it doesn’t look like you have used a flash at all. You should definitely give it a try. 🙂
A useful tip, very clearly explained. Your photo illustrates the point beautifully!
Thank you. 🙂
Great tip. I’ve use this one myself on occasion, but not often with my Nikon.
Of course you can use it with any camera and flash. 🙂
I’ve never fully understood my Nikon settings, but your explanation has helped. I unlock that camera one piece at a time. 😉
If you need help to further unlock it, just let me know. At least I’ll try to help.
You are so kind and generous with your time Otto! Thanks for the offer. I think, with your tips from this post, I can figure it out.
I thought so. 🙂
Very helpful, Otto.
You are welcome. 🙂 And thank you for the feedback, Lisa.
Well written and helpful post, Otto. Thanks.
Love the image … what an interesting man .. I wounder what he is thinking.
I was asking somebody else this week about the harsh light … and what to do. I only work with an advanced compact camera, but maybe the flash will be the answer. Even when I have the back against the sun … the light is so harsh and the blue sky .. just turns white. Thank you much, Otto. I wish you a pleasant weekend.
A little fill-in-flash can often help when the light is harsh. Thank you, Thea Maria. May you have a wonderful weekend, too.
I will try that next time .. thanks a million for the tip.
Most people don’t think about using their flash for fill in it. It’s good to hear someone explain it properly.
Thank you for those nice words, Michelle.
Otto, you’ve found another way to share your experience and expertise. It will be a treat to read what tips you have selected (over time, of course).
Thank you for the encouragement, Sally. Means a lot.
Great and too often forgotten tip Otto, look forward to this new tips and trick section of your Blog.
Thank you, Lee. Much appreciated.
Thank you do much for this tip, Otto. Here in Florida, I about put my camera away for a greater part of the day due to the intense sun. I cannot wait to try this!
I hope you will see how well it works. Good luck trying out using fill-in-flash.
I love seeing catch lights in eyes. It is almost always a great effect to achieve in portraiture.
Sometimes I use the flash only for the catch light.It does make a person look more alive, doesn’t it. 🙂
This is really helpful, Otto. I appreciate the detail in providing direction about the settings. I have been spending time each week taking my camera out to more or less practice. There are so many features on my camera that I have never explored, and it’s been a challenge trying to learn new techniques. Shadows have been really difficult for me! I am really eager to see what I can do with this direction. Thank you!
I hope you will enjoy trying out the tip. If you need some help find out how to use your camera, I’ll do my best to help you.
Thank you for such a kind offer, Otto. It’s entirely possible I’ll have a couple of questions.
This is wonderful, Otto. I’ve heard of fill-in flash, but I’ve never used flash at all, because the results have been so unattractive. Now that I have my new Canon — and now that I’ve found the place in the little book that explains how to vary the flash settings! — I’m looking forward to some experimentation. Your suggestions and comments were very clear, and helpful.
I hope you will enjoy the new approach to using flash. 🙂
Thanks a bunch. This has been very helpful. I will try this the next time I am out shooting! I also have a remote trigger for my external flash I thought about experimenting with during the daytime. Any suggestions?
By setting up the flash away from the camera you will be able to let it bring out the forms in the subjects. I would just experiment and start out there (there are plenty of books about if you need some back-up information later on).
Well now. Thanks for the tip, Otto!
You are welcome. 🙂
I am glad you think so. Thank you, Rebecca.
Important to have a small flash with you to unclog shadows !! if not a reflector, but more imposing carrying around!
Yes, it’s indeed. Thank you, Pat.
Thanks to these tips, very useful for those who have to learn the tricks of photography, even the tricks that the camera allows us to use for improving the photograph. Very nice idea to give tips dear Otto. Ciao, Pat
I am glad you think so. Thank you, Patrizia.
That’s a nice job
Thank you, Francis.
Very good advice Otto ~ back in the day, I often would bring homemade diffusers with me (cloth of different hues and colors) and even sometimes a bottle (brown, green, etc…) to serve the purpose of lessening the harsh impact flash often has on the subject.
Anything will do, no, as long it spreads that harsh flash light! It’s still very useful to do. 🙂
This was very helpful for me, I must try using flash photographing portraits! I have never used the flash in this way. Thank you VERY much for this article!
Good to hear that it may be useful for you. 🙂