Fill Flash For Summer Portraits

By Geoff Harris

Summer, lovely girl enjoying summer vacations

Great Fill flash Tips For Summer Portraits.

Flash is only needed indoors, right, or in low light? Not necessarily – it's also very useful in strong sunlight, where a quick burst of flash can help fill in shadows and reduce harsh contrast, particularly on faces.

This is called 'fill flash' and a good way to remember the name is to think of yourself 'filling in' shadows (the technique is also known as 'synchro sun').

Fill flash can also be useful on dull days, boosting the colours and increasing contrast and adding that nice 'sparkle,' or catchlight, to people's eyes. Here's a quick guide to getting started with fill flash.

1) Check the distance

Mother and daughter relaxing in park.
The trick to fill flash is getting the right distance – not too close and no too far. A range of about two to 12 feet is usually ideal.

This is an ideal distance for taking a portrait, but don't expect it to light up a football match taking place quite a long way away. To use fill flash, simply activate your camera's built in flash, and take the picture.

2) Taking more creative control

Child bathing outdoors in spring
For more difficult lighting conditions, or where you want more creative control, it's best to use fill flash in Aperture Priority mode, rather than Auto or P mode.

As you adjust the aperture, the camera will set the shutter speed, but be aware that the fastest shutter speed your camera is usually able to access with flash is 1/250 sec, depending on the camera.

Watch the histogram (exposure graph) carefully as very wide apertures used with flash in bright sunlight can cause gross overexposure – too much light is hitting the sensor.

3) Tricks for better exposure

Women's day
With fill flash you are trying to balance an exposure taken during daylight with an exposure taken with the flash.

If overexposure is a problem, choose a narrower aperture (higher f number) or reduce the ISO. You can also reduce exposure compensation the camera (the +/- button) to make the sky look a bit darker, for example.

Be careful that you don't make the subject darker too, though – so also use the flash compensation button on the camera (usually indicated by a flash icon) to ensure the subject is properly lit. Effective fill flash is all about getting a balanced exposure.

4) Fill flash power tips

Did you know that increasing the ISO also boosts the range of the built-in flash? It's well worth trying if underexposure is a problem.

Setting the flash to 'slow' can also be useful in lower light. If you use a speedlight, the same principles apply, but you have obviously have much more control over the flash output and angle of the light.

Remember to check the distance, and combine the exposure compensation controls with the flash exposure controls to ensure there is the right balance for your particular creative purpose.

Also, don't forget that while a pop of flash may help with lighting on portraits, you also need to carefully set the autofocus point over the eyes to be sure of consistently sharp results.

Geoff Harris

I am a journalist and photographer and currently work as the Deputy Editor of Amateur Photographer (AP) - the oldest weekly photographic magazine in the world. Before that I served as the editor of Digital Camera, Britain's best-selling photography magazine, for five years. During my time as editor it became the UK's top selling photo monthly and won Print Publication of the Year at the 2013 British Media Awards. As well as being lucky enough to get paid to write about photography, I've been fortunate to interview some of the greatest photographers in the world, including Elliott Erwitt, Don McCullin, Martin Parr, Terry O'Neill and Steve McCurry. This has been a wonderful learning experience and very influential on my photography. Beyond writing, I am a professional portrait, travel and documentary photographer, and reached the finals of the 2016 Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year competition. I am a Licentiate of the Royal Photographic Society and hope to take my Associateship whenever I can find the time. In addition I write about well being/personal development and antiques collecting for a range of other titles, including BlueWings, the in-flight magazine of Finn Air.

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