Having your fill (flash)

Some of you may think that outside during the day is the best time to take a portrait because there’s plenty of light. That’s true but it’s not always the best light. The best outdoor light is early or late in the day when the sun is near the horizon. Midday sun is the worst. The light is coming straight down and creates harsh and unflattering shadows on your subject’s face. Moving them into a shaded area where the light is more even is one solution, but there is another: use your flash. It may seem a bit counterintuitive because if there’s lots of light, then why do you need to use a flash?

(04/14/19) Nine-year-old Sukha Singh of Stockton, left, is helped by Gurdeep Singh of Lodi to blow a narsingha horn to herald a float carrying the Sikh holy book Guru Granth Sahib in the Stockton Gurdwara’s annual Nagar Kirtan parade in Stockton. (Camera: Nikon D5, Lens: Nikon 24-120mm @ 24mm. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/9 w/fill-flash. ISO: 200)

The technique is called fill-flash (some people know by it’s reversed name flash-fill). As the name suggests, by using your flash you can fill and lessen or eliminated those shadows under the eye sockets and nose to create a more pleasing look.

(4/25/19) Pittman Charter School 6th grader Rubi Gonzalez reads her poem at the 3rd anniversary of the University Park World Peace Rose Garden in Stockton. Students from 4 area schools entered a poem contest and had plaques containing their work unveiled during the ceremony. (Camera: Nikon D5, Lens: Nikon 24-120mm @ 24mm. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/11 w/fill-flash. ISO: 400)

Polaroid knew this many years ago and had their instant cameras fire their flashes with every shot whether you were inside or out or whether it was night or day.

(4/19/19)Singer Samantha Fong provides the entertainment during the 3rd annual Earth Day Garden Party at the Ted and Chris Robb Garden on the UOP campus in Stockton. (Camera: Nikon D5, Lens: Nikon 24-120mm @ 24mm. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/20 w/fill-flash. ISO: 200)

In the old days of non-automatic flashes one had to calculate the power of the flash and the ambient exposure manually, which was a pain. It’s probably why so few photographers eschewed fill-flash back in those days. Today, all you have to do is attach your flash and turn it on. If you have a camera with a built-in flash, that’s one less step you need to take.

(4/19/19) Erica Standifer reads aloud a passage from the Bible as a parts of a Good Friday observance at the First Baptist Church in Stockton. About 90 congregation members read different passages from the Bible around and in front of the church’s campus from 5:30 p.m to 6:30 p.m. and finished in about an hour ahead of the church’s 7:00 p.m. Good Friday service. (Camera: Nikon D5, Lens: Nikon 24-120mm @ 24mm. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/16 w/fill-flash. ISO: 200)

If you find that the fill is too much or too little, most flashes have controls to incrementally compensate up or down. Read your owners manual to find out how to do it.

(4/21/19) Artist Rocio House creates an Easter-inspired painting at the annual citywide Easter Sunrise Service at the Weber Point events Center in downtown Stockton. (Camera: Nikon D5, Lens: Nikon 24-120mm @ 24mm. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/6.3 w/fill-flash. ISO: 200)

On-camera fill-flash can look a little flat (though infinitely better than the awkward shadows that an overhead sun can create), that’s why I like to use my flash off camera. There’s a couple of ways you can do it. You can get a wireless transmitter to trigger your flash. Some use invisible infrared light pulses to fire the flash while some others use radio waves. You can set the flash on a light stand anywhere you want. The downside is the added cost of the transmitter. I like to use an off-camera sync cord. It’s a cord that attaches to the accessory hotshoe at the top of the camera and the flash. It allows me to hold the flash at arms length and get some directionality from the light.

(5/2/19) Manuel Gonzalez of Stockton puts gas into his V-10 Ford F250 pickup truck at the Western Food and Fuel gas station on Waterloo Road and Sutro Avenue in Stockton. The price for regular there is $3.99.9 per gallon. (Camera: Nikon D5, Lens: Nikon 24-120mm @ 24mm. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/8 w/fill-flash. ISO: 200)

There are a couple of restrictions where fill-flash doesn’t work so well. First is distance. The technique will only work within about 10 feet or so. Any farther away than that your flash won’t be strong enough to make a difference. Secondly, the technique really won’t work for smartphone cameras. Most have some sort of a “flash” function but it’s really just using the phone’s flashlight which is too weak to overcome a daylight exposure no matter how close you are to your subject.

(4/3/19) Dancer Liz LaGrange leads students in a dance at the High School Nation traveling music and arts festival at the Cesar Chavez High School football field in Stockton. The event featured a concert of recording artist, hands-on time with musical instruments, as well as other activities. (Camera: Nikon D5, Lens: Nikon 24-120mm @ 24mm. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/8 w/fill-flash. ISO: 200)

With fill-flash you don’t have to wait for the best time of day for light, or be a slave to the lighting conditions. You can use your flash to take control of the situation yourself.

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