Using on camera fill flash | Photography basics

Using a flash that sits on top of your camera is the easiest way to make your photos look flat and boring. When we are taking a photograph what we are actually trying to do is trick the mind into thinking we have created a three-dimensional image on a two-dimensional plain. To achieve this shadow is our best friend.

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Let us use a portrait as an example. This lovely picture was taken with the light (a flash mounted on a tripod) just the right of the subject. We can see the light coming in to the face and dropping off into shadow and already there is a sense that this is a three-dimensional object.


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If we look at the image below the light is mounted on top of the camera and the shadow in hidden behind the subject. It looks flat, two-dimensional and not very exciting.


This is what your pop up flash does to every picture so unless you are able to use an off camera flash use it sparingly.

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There are some occasions when your pop up flash can be used creatively, in particular when you have a backlit subject.

How many times have you stood in front of a beautiful view or tourist spot only for the background to become bright and washed out and for you to be eclipsed into shadow?


A simple remedy for this is to use your pop up flash as a fill light. What you are trying to achieve is the same about of light falling onto your subject as onto your subject so you will have to get close to your subject as you pop up flash will have a very limited range.

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If you are using a fully automatic or portrait setting on your camera then it’s likely that your flash will pop up automatically but of you are using a manual setting then you’ll have to flick it up manually.


Your fill flash will also have various power setting which are worth experimenting with and it should be easy enough for you to change the power levels if needed.


Experiment time

This is a very simple set up but it does create a lovely image.


Find a nice viewpoint and wait till just before sunset.

Set your camera to manual mode and take an exposure reading which will achieve a lovely landscape with the sunset nice and colourful and the sky with plenty of detail.

Now position your subject with his or her back to the sun and take a shot.

They should appear as a silhouette.

Pop up your flash and set to its lowest setting.

Take a series of images increasing your flash power with each shot.

Now do one more shot with your flash on AUTO.


You might find that your auto setting is too bright on your subject but the experiment should give you an idea if how much fill flash you might want to use in the future.


Important : when doing this experiment make sure you are the same distance away from your subject for each shot. If it’s not bright enough in any of your shots then move closer to your subject and do it again.

Any time when using flash the inverse square law can help you.

The inverse square law : double the distance = quarter the light.

If you are 4 metres away from your subject and your flash is not bright enough move 2 metres forward and you will have 25% more light.


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