In a (fill) flash

From portraits to landscapes the best light to shoot under is usually found early in the morning or late in the afternoon/ early evening hours. The pictures take at those times are much more pleasing due to the low angle of the sun and the warm quality of the light. The midday sun provides lots of light, but the harsh nature and direction isn’t best for pictures, especially portraits. Deep shadows are created under the eye sockets and nose which can be unflattering.

But people live busy lives and there are deadlines to be adhered to but it’s not always possible to shoot at those perfect times. Often you have to shoot when their schedules allow and not for the best light. One way to ameliorate the problem of bad light is to modify it or to bring your own.

A simple solution is to reflect some of the light back up into the shadows of a person’s face. While you can buy some pretty fancy reflectors, some that fold up, some that have shiny silvery material, some that are even different colors, the simplest thing to use is know as a bounce card. It can be just a piece of white paper or cardboard. All you have to do is position it so that the sun light bounces off of it (hence the name) back toward your subject. It can be as small as a sheet of printer paper (though you have to get pretty close to your subject for that) and about as cheap. I’ve even posed subjects near a large might colored wall to get the light bouncing off of it to get some fill from it. The down side of a bounce card is that you usually need someone to assist you to hold it just out of the camera’s view.


Most think of using their camera’s flash in low-light situations of that occur in darkened interiors or at night. But a flash can be very helpful in bright sunlight as well. The technique known as fill-flash uses a flash, whether a studio-type strobe, a hotshoe flash or the camera’s built-in one, to fill in the deep shadows created by the harsh sun.

Polaroid knew this early on. Their 600-series cameras didn’t give you a choice. Their electronic flashes fired off on every shot.



I recently shot the erection of a historic water tower at the Discover the Delta foundation’s visitors center on Highway 12 and Highway 160 in Rio Vista, There was a festive party atmosphere with dozens of spectators gathered to watch the event. A man came up to me and asked me to take a picture of him in front of the tower with his camera. He promptly handed me one of those plastic disposable camera you seen at the grocery store checkout line. It had a button for a flash to be used in low-light situations. With a flick of the switch I had instant fill-flash.

In the very old days it was difficult to do with the old manual flashes. It meant a lot of calculating of guide numbers (the power of the flash unit) and estimating of distances from the subject. And if your subject’s distance changed, you’d have to recalculate your exposures all over again. Many photographers hoped that the films exposure latitude would make up for any errors or avoided using their flashes altogether.

Today’s equipment is much more precise. Through-the-lens- flash metering (TTL) monitors the amount of light that comes into the lens to get the auto flash exposures very close if not perfect. Nearly every camera, from point and shoots to DSLRs has some sort of a fill- flash option. Check your owner’s manual or your camera’s menu to find out access your camera’s fill-flash settings. You may not be able to have the best light to shoot under but by bringing some of your own light (or modifying the light that’s there) you can improve your photos anytime of the day.

This entry was posted in Column, Light, lighting, Techniques, Tips and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Rules. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or fill out this form.
  • Categories

  • Archives