When In Doubt, Use Flash

“The whole series is black-and-white, so when I went to shoot one of the women I only had black-and-white film with me.”— Helmut Newton

The ingredients for making outdoor portraits are easy to find: All you need is a subject, a camera, and some light but like any recipe it’s how all these elements are combined that goes into cooking up a delicious portrait. Just like Emeril’s secret ingredient Essence, I’d like you to suggest a special spice to the outdoor portrait—flash.

Even the small pop-up flashes that are built into most digital SLRs can be used to perk up your outdoor portraiture. The key to improving your outdoor portraits is knowing when it’s the right time to use flash. Start by looking at the light that’s falling on your subject and evaluating the range of shadows and highlights that appear within the scene. Learning to see light is not difficult but takes practice and using your camera’s LCD screen will help you analyze outdoor flash photographs to see if your efforts were successful. My guess is that with a little experience your answer about when to use flash outdoors will be “most of the time.”

Using the camera’s built-in flash as the sole source of lighting for people pictures can often produce a portrait but the lighting may be flat and a bit contrasty. Nevertheless the small pop-up flashes found in many DSLRs do a surprisingly good job in delivering well exposed outdoors pictures—if you are careful not to exceed the maximum flash distance.

To avoid the dreaded flash-on-camera look for this portrait of a model standing just inside the entrance to a barn, I used LumiQuest’s Soft Screen that’s designed to work with a digital SLR’s pop-up flash and soften shadows and reduces hot spots.

For the above image, camera was Canon EOS 50D and 28.0-105.0 mm lens with an exposure was 1/60 at f/4.5 and ISO 200.

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If you’re interested in shooting portraits and how I use cameras, lenses and lighting in my in-home studio, please pick up a copy of Studio Lighting Anywhere” which is available from Amazon.com with new copies selling $17.50, just a few bucks more than used ($15.34.)

Author: Joe Farace

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