September 3, 2007

I want to explain a bit more about how I use fill-flash, by using a specific example – and compare the results with and without fill-flash.

The image above is of clients of mine (Erik & Carla) whose engagement shoot took place in Vegas earlier this year.  This part of the shoot took place outside The Venetian. I bounced the flash into that open ceiling of the Venetian, and half behind me into the walls. And anyone who has been there, knows how large a space it is … but enough light bounces back from the walls and ceiling to lift the shadows and reduce the contrast.

The image as shown above, had some post-processing done to it.
Specifically, I ran the Prettyizer and Rusty Cage actions by the Boutwells.
(Highly recommended, btw)

But here on the left is the image as it comes out of Canon’s DPP (which follows the camera settings for image quality), with only a minor WB correction done to it, and exposure pulled down -0.3 stops in raw processing.
On the rightis an image taken shortly after where I tripped the shutter before the flash had enough time to recycle. ie, no flash. Exposure at 0EV, and the same WB correction as the left-hand image.


And just to show what the flash does to the detail in the faces.
(And yes, they did give me permission to use the image here.)

For me, the difference is huge. The left hand image is flattering, there is detail, but the mood is retained. And it certainly does NOT look like flash.


And NO, I did not modify the flash. A flash modifier would’ve thrown too much light forward and made it look like flash was used. Which quite often is ugly. (If only I could convince the world that using a flash modifier is more often a bad idea than a good one.)

Re my specific settings … the shutter speed was 1/250th – maximum flash sync speed for this camera.

And this setting was chosen deliberately. There is something very sweet happening at max flash sync speed – and too many photographers aren’t aware of it.If it doesn’t quite make sense why, let me elaborate:

Let’s say your background that is brightly light is at 1/60th @ f11 .. and you’re trying to push enough light from your strobe to light your subject which is in ‘shade’. Now your strobe would have a really hard time trying to push out f11 if you’re bouncing it off the ceiling or wall in a large room.

BUT .. that same exposure setting, also translates to ..
1/125th @ f8 … and now your flash has a slightly better chance.
1/250th @ f5.6 … and now we’re getting into the realm of bounceable flash.

We could extend this to 1/500th @ f4 … but we’d have to go into high-speed sync mode.  And as soon as you do that, you lose more than half your flash’s range.

You can double check this by watching what your strobe’s range indicator does as soon as you go 1/3rd stop over your max sync speed. For this, you would need to take your flash out of bounce position.
(5D users have a slightly different experience here wrt when high-speed flash sync kicks in.)

btw … I am explaining this as if your camera has a max sync speed of 1/250th. Of course it differs for different cameras, but the same thought process remains.

So we’re looking at 1/250th (or whatever your max flash sync speed is), offering us the widest possible aperture, at the most range / output we can get from our strobe. Less than max sync speed, and we’re making our strobe work harder than it probably needs to because we are using a smaller f-stop. (We’re still thinking in terms of balancing flash with a very bright background, or in bright conditions.)

For me, 1/25oth therefore becomes an easy default when working outdoors.
I have max efficiency from my strobe (in case I need it), and at the slightly higher shutter speed, I have less chance of camera shake or subject movement to register.

And in the instance where in bright conditions (or against a bright background), we’re settling on max sync speed giving us the widest aperture we can use for the most range from our strobe, but this also has the implication that ..
– our batteries lasting longer, and
– our flashgun recycles faster, and this in turn
– we have more consistent exposures when shooting faster.



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{ 7 comments. } Add a Comment

1 joseph franklin September 19, 2007 at 4:32 pm

Thank you for sharing your knowledge. i like how you explain stuff and I also find the before and after shots are very helpful.
I really found the lighting of the Indian wedding very useful.

again thank you

all the best joe


2 Tammy Cravit September 27, 2007 at 11:43 pm

Thanks for a great post! I’m actually torn about which image I like better, but the concept of having the subjects aligned nearly to vertical and the background tilted accordingly is one I really like. Plus that’s a lovely, very evocative pose…I’ll have to remember it. :-)

Thanks, too, for adding me to your blog roll!



3 Carla October 15, 2007 at 3:09 pm

thanks for the explanation… although i’m still confused. i’m not a good photographer but apparently i’m good at being photographed. i feel important when i see my face on the internet. i hope i looked as good in my wedding photos.

Carla Matey


4 Chris Joerg October 25, 2007 at 11:25 am

Hey Neil!

As being attracted by available light because of hating the destroying effect of flash on pictures, your site and knowledge is the “enlightenment” ;-) !
Great how you make the “accursed” flash invisible!

Thanks for sharing that! All the best! Chris Joerg

If you want, take a look at my site:


5 Trevor Simpson October 30, 2007 at 7:22 am

Hi Neil,

Fantastic articles, discovered your postings a few months ago, but only just did in depth read.

I have a question regarding light in the tropics [Central/Northern Australia] as even when using my 5D at highest sync at 200th or my 1D Mk III which syncs at 300th and ISO is set at 50 even, my aperture still wants me to stop down to around 8-11 in a lot of cases.

I do a lot of beach weddings, subjects in shade on foreshore, bright background. Sand/sky/water and sometimes even the dang sun itself coming in from around 90 degrees to left. Normally I like to shoot in the ‘direction of my shadow’ is my motto, but of course that does not always suffice.

And yep, tried the old High Speed Sync and trying to get a large group shot in shade zoomed right out and around 4 meters away [13ft. approx] my flash range is as you say, drastically cut back.

So I either run with ‘blown’ backgrounds, or just ‘grin and bear it’ then try to lighten up the subjects in Photoshop, not always a good option.

Any thoughts.



6 John August 15, 2008 at 7:22 am

Ummm but the aperture selection should also be dictated by the DOF right ?. I meant what if I want to see the background of the picture (just for an example).



7 Neil August 16, 2008 at 4:18 am

John …

Sure, aperture selection should be dictated by the DoF needed. Rarely do I as a portrait / wedding photographer need lots of depth-of-field.

But in a scenario like this, had a decided I needed f16 kind of depth-of-field, I would either need a much much larger flashgun to achieve bounce flash at that aperture, and used like I had … or I’d have to accept that fill-flash wouldn’t register (at that chosen small aperture.)

Neil vN.


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