Photo by Joshua Waller
When you're taking outdoor portraits in sunlight the results can be a little harsh with dark heavy shadows spoiling the image. As a result, a blip of fill-in flash is needed to balance the image. Many cameras when the integral flash is used have a fill in flash mode which forces the flash to fire. Adding a little flash can flatter your model's skin, remove deep shadows that can appear in places on the face such as under the nose and it will give your model catchlights in their eyes which is a big bonus. It's also useful on overcast days as it can breath life into dull portraits. You can also use a 'pop' of flash to highlight foreground interest in landscape shots.
Into The Sun
When shooting into the sun when your subject would usually be silhouetted, by exposing for the scene as normal then adding a pop of flash you'll lighten your subject without effecting the background. When exposing for the scene you need to find the right balance between the shutter speed, which you need to set so it adds enough ambient light, and the size of the aperture which you use to expose for the flash. You have to do it this way round as every time you fire the flash there will be the same amount of light so speeding up or slowing down the shutter speed won't make a difference.
Remember, though, that you cannot set a shutter speed faster than the camera's flash sync speed or the picture will be unevenly exposed. There are some camera/flashgun combinations that will sync at every shutter speed but these are usually top-end models. Check your instruction manual if you are unsure what is the correct flash sync speed.
Your camera's built-in flash can work fine for fill-in but you can do more using a separate flash used off camera. Models are available from your camera brand as well as independent names. By using off camera flash you can move it round the scene to help evenly light your shot. Off camera flash used in dark conditions also has the advantage of avoiding red eye. If needs be you can change the strength of your flash with flash exposure compensation if you're using the camera's built-in flash or one on your hot-shoe.
To maintain full flash automation when the flashgun is used off camera you will need a dedicated cord, although some camera/flashgun combination offer wireless flash metering control. Wireless control can work fine but can struggle in bright daylight so you need to check how your DSLR performs before doing an important shoot.
Do be careful when using fill flash as it can make your portrait shots look a little artificial. Set a minus value on the flash exposure compensation control or turn down the output of the flashgun. It's important to remember that less is more and use fill flash to subtly lift your portraits.
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