Flash for Outdoor Portraits Makes a Difference

These days, most point-and-shoot cameras have built-in flash. Many digital SLRs do too but not all of the so-called “professional” models, even though having a small flash available with the click of a button can make the difference between a good photograph and a not-so-good one. When should you use the built-in flash? The most obvious answer is when the light is low and you need to illuminate your subject but that may not be the best way. If light levels are low and you use the built-in flash you may get an overexposed foreground and an underexposed background. What kind of flash picture do you think people in the stands photographing night baseball or football games get with their point-and-shoot cameras?

The key to using your built-in flash is knowing the right time to use it. When making pictures of people during the day turning your built-in flash on is one of the simplest ways to improve your photographs. Instead of getting underexposed pictures or silhouettes, your friends will pop out of the background, as will the colors. So what’s the secret of good fill flash outdoors?

Basic photo books are full of rules to follow that help you obtain the mathematically correct ratios of daylight to flash but I feel only you know what looks best. Take the time to do some testing: Shoot some exposures with your digital SLR at all the flash’s automatic settings or bracket by changing the camera’s exposure compensation dial. A few cameras seven permit bracketing exposures using the camera’s built-in flash. Typically, I just make outdoor flash shots with the SLR set in Program mode and adjust the exposure compensation to get the look I want but not every camera/lens combination works the same. In that case I switch to manual mode, using the base exposure selected by the camera in program mode as a starting point.

The portrait (above) was made in the shade using a Canon EOS 20D. White Balance was set in auto mode and no flash was used. While the backlighting is nice the AWB still produced an underexposed and slightly blue look and the subject’s sparkling eyes, aren’t sparkling without light to illuminate them. ©2011 Joe Farace. In this shot (at right) the EOS 20D’s flash was popped up, which not only provided fill but also produced extra warmth, which the camera’s Auto White Balance used to warm up the entire photograph. A double whammy.the subject looks great in both photographs, but using the EOS 20D’s built-in flash helps make this one a winner. ©2011 Joe Farace

Author: Joe Farace

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