using on-camera flash outdoors
Speaking very broadly, there are two ways of using on-camera flash outside – either as:
- a slight fill-flash, or as
- a brute light source to lift the shadow areas of a subject to the same level as the sunlit areas.
Of course, in between that, there is a wide spectrum of possibilities, but for simplicity of explanation, I’ll show examples of those two extremes.
Metering correctly for ambient light is key here.
It is important that you understand how shutter speed, aperture and ISO inter-relate.
The following three photos are really simple in their execution. I metered correctly for the available light, and then shot with flash straight on – but my flash exposure compensation was dialed way down.
It is as simple as juggling the three inter-dependent controls – shutter speed, aperture and iso.
When I shoot this way outdoors, I usually dial my Canon speedlights down to around -2 to -3 stops. But with Nikon strobes I tend to dial down less – usually around -1.3 or -1.7 … because I then use the Nikon speedlights in TTL BL mode, which balances flash automatically with ambient light.
The idea here is to just use the flash to lift the shadows, and avoid shadows under the subject’s eyebrows. The flash should ideally be imperceptible, and is really only used as fill-light.
Just to round out the variety of cameras used, I should mention that the above photo was taken with a Fuji S2.
|Flash straight on, but dialed down because I wanted it as a touch of fill light only.specific settings:
Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 VR
1/250th @ f3.5 @ 200 iso
manual; matrix metering
TTL flash: -1.7 exp comp
The wide aperture was chosen for the minimal depth-of-field. I wanted the autumn leaves as a soft mush in the background.
My exposure was chosen by chimping and making sure that the exposure on her skin was good without flash.
|I used the same simple technique here as well for daylight fill-flash as with the previous photographs on this page. I set my camera to expose for ambient light, and then used flash which I dialed down. specific settings:
Canon 70-200mm f2.8 IS
1/250th @ f2.8 @ 100 iso
manual; eval metering
TTL flash: -3 exp comp
|Unless you want the background to blow out, or the shadow areas to go black, you’re compelled to try something to balance the shadow areas with the brighter sunlit areas. The easiest way is usually with an on-camera speedlight.To help with contrasty situation here I had to blast a lot of flash in order to balance the exposure between the couple and the setting. So here the light from my flash isn’t as subtle as the previous examples – but it was a necessity in order to get the photograph, and still shoot while on the move.
next section: more on exposure metering, and using TTL flash
video tutorials to help you with flash photography
If you like learning by seeing best, then these video tutorials will help you with understanding flash photography techniques and concepts. While not quite hands-on, this is as close as we can get to personal instruction. Check them these and other video tutorials and online photography workshops.