How To Use Fill Flash

You see a beautiful scene in front of you. Your child is playing outside with the sun and a gorgeous blue sky are behind them. You pick up your camera, shoot, and get a weird silhouette you didn’t want.

You fiddle with settings a little and now your subject is beautifully exposed, but the background is an ugly white nothingness.

You think to yourself, “there has to be a solution! “

Lucky you! There is!

You need fill flash.

Fill flash is used to compliment the available ambient light, opening up the  shadows on your subject.

You might use flash fill when:

  • Shooting in bright midday sunlight, to eliminate heavy shadows
  • Backlit situations
  • Lower light situations, when you want to convey a mood
  • Your subject is wearing a hat, shadowing their face

Fill flash allows you to keep both the background and your subject exposed correctly.

My very willing hubby stood (relatively) still so I could show you some less than beautiful examples of exactly what happens with fill flash and why we need it. (And just to keep things real and help you learn, I’ve done NO post processing, but I expect that to be obvious 😉 )

This is what you get when you have a bright background and exposure for your subject. Subject is okay, but the background is blown out. Expose for your background and then you get a silhouette like the second photo. Or in my example, a blog of a black space where his face should be!

You can use your camera’s pop up flash to balance the light. This isn’t ideal, but it will do in a pinch. Notice the flash reflecting on his glasses? Learn to eliminate reflections here.

 

Do you have an external flash? This is going to be your best way to flatter your subject and sow the details of your background. Bouncing your flash off of something is ideal. In the top example I’ve bounced it off of the ceiling above us. In the bottom example, I’ve bounced it off of the wall beside us. Notice the catchlights that now appear in his eye? It’s all about the angle of light. Learn more about light with the help of a tomato.

Now that you’ve seen examples, let’s practice. In the following examples, I’ve chosen to use an aperture of f/5.6 to keep both eyes of your subject in focus. You can try other apertures.

Using fill flash WITH BUILT IN FLASH:

  1. Set your camera to Manual (M) mode.
  2. Set your ISO to the lowest possible number given your light.
  3. Choose an aperture of f/5.6.
  4. Look through your lens and expose for a well lit object behind your subject.
  5. Pop up your flash (a small black button with a lightning bolt on the left hand side of most cameras).
  6. Shoot
  7. Review your histogram for results
  8. Adjust your flash exposure compensation
  9. + if your image is too dark (histogram stacked to the left)
  10. – if your image is too light (histogram stacked to the right)
  11. Shoot again, review, adjust.

To reduce a little bit of the harshness of your pop up flash, try covering it with a piece of tissue!

Using fill flash WITH EXTERNAL FLASH:

  1. Set your camera to Manual (M).
  2. Point your flash at your subject.
  3. Set your ISO to the lowest possible number given your light.
  4. Choose an aperture of f/5.6.
  5. Look through your lens and expose for a well lit object behind your subject.
  6. Turn your flash on the TTL setting (typically the default).
  7. Shoot.
  8. Review your histogram for results
  9. Adjust your flash exposure compensation
  10. + if your image is too dark (histogram stacked to the left)
  11. – if your image is too light (histogram stacked to the right)
  12. Shoot again, review, adjust.

There you have it! Play with your settings some and with the direction that you bounce your flash.

Learn even more about using your flash.

Now the next time the sun is shining overhead or your subject is backlit, you know exactly how to create a photo you’ll love!

Do you ever use your flash? Does it frustrate you or leave you with results you love? Share your perspective in the comments below!