Photography transcript 4 — Fill flash —

[Cam­era clicks]

Please note that this is an audio tran­scrip­tion. Gram­mer and punc­tu­a­tion will not be perfect.

Hi there every­one and wel­come to the Pho­tog­ra­phy Pod­cast on‚ My name is Marko and we are com­ing to you from Mon­treal, Que­bec, Canada, on this Novem­ber 2, 2006.
It is a beau­ti­ful sunny day in Mon­treal, albeit cold, and sunny days are a great time to talk about fill flash.‚ This whole pod­cast is actu­ally inspired by a new mem­ber that posted some pretty inter­est­ing pic­tures on the bul­letin board.‚ I quite like those pic­tures, but I thought that those pic­tures could be even bet­ter if they would have just used a lit­tle bit of fill flash.‚ In a nut­shell, what fill flash is, is it fills the shad­ows of scenes and it is par­tic­u­larly use­ful in por­trai­ture.‚ So even on a sunny day, which may seem counter-intuitive, a great thing to do is use a bit of fill flash. ‚What hap­pens is the sun, espe­cially when it is high above, will hit the subject’s head and cast like a shadow in their eyes and on their nose and it is not attrac­tive at all.‚ So, you have this per­son with dark cir­cles under their eyes and it is really not so flat­ter­ing and some­times it is really dis­tract­ing.‚ What is a really good thing to use is fill flash.
Now, most mod­ern SLRs and dig­i­tal SLRs have the abil­ity to use fill flash.‚ Some­times you can use fill flash on the lit­tle flash that comes with the cam­era or if you have an actual cam­era that you mount on your flash via the hot shoe, you can def­i­nitely use fill flash there.‚ It is such a sim­ple pro­ce­dure.‚ All you have to do is turn on the flash and fire the cam­era and there you go, you have fill flash.‚ You should know what set­tings you are on.‚ You could be on a man­ual set­ting, you could be on a more auto­matic set­ting, but even in the sun, take a pic­ture of a per­son and use the flash.‚ What is going to hap­pen is that flash is going to fire at the per­son and it is going to fill their face with a bit of light and gen­er­ally it will make the pic­ture more attrac­tive.‚ Actu­ally, for this pod­cast, we are going to put up a cou­ple of shots on the blog with and with­out fill flash and you can kind of see the dif­fer­ences.‚ Now the inter­est­ing thing about fill flash is that you can vary the amount of the fill flash.‚ What most peo­ple will do is they will put it on an auto­matic — they will put their cam­era rather on an auto­matic set­ting, turn on the flash and just shoot and although gen­er­ally that is bet­ter than not using any fill flash at all, espe­cially on a bright sunny day, it is not the best thing pos­si­ble.‚ It has been my expe­ri­ence that the best shots or gen­er­ally very good shots that use fill flash have the fill flash used at a strength that is less strong than the ambi­ent light.‚ That is to say, the light that is light­ing the sub­ject, the nat­ural light, let us say, well, the fill flash should be less strong than that light.‚ What hap­pens is if the fill flash is at the same strength as the light that is nat­u­rally light­ing the sub­ject or the ambi­ent light, it does not quite look as flat­ter­ing as it could.‚ If the fill flash is stronger than the sub­ject, well, then it is not even called fill flash any­more.‚ That is really the main light for the sub­ject and that makes the sub­ject.‚ Unless you are look­ing for a spe­cific effect, it makes it look less pleas­ing than nor­mal.
That said, for that spe­cial effect, I mean you will see this all the time in fash­ion or fash­ion mag­a­zines where the model is just blasted with light.‚ She is flaw­less gen­er­ally and they will retouch her for hours after­wards and she will look good, but it is not gen­er­ally the most nat­ural look for gen­eral pho­tog­ra­phy I would say.‚ A good thing to do is read the cam­era man­ual and fig­ure out how to adjust the flash.‚ It is usu­ally under some­thing called flash com­pen­sa­tion or fill flash, but it is gen­er­ally really easy to do and what you want to do, again, is let us say you are using the lit­tle flash on the cam­era, you just want to lower that by one or two or three stops even and what that will do is it will just add a touch of light to your sub­ject and light them in a very pleas­ing way.‚ If you were to use, let us say, minus one stop of light from the flash, what the flash is doing is it is cal­cu­lat­ing the amount of light in the scene that is nat­u­rally there and then it is giv­ing you one stop less, minus two gives you two stops less, minus three gives you three stops less.‚ These flashes can work in dif­fer­ent fash­ions, it could work by stops or other incre­ments but what looks very nat­ural or more pleas­ing, let us say, is when there is less light com­ing from the flash than the actual light that is light­ing the sub­ject.
Per­son­ally, when I use fill flash, I almost always choose, let us say, minus one and a half or minus two stops of light, so I am just giv­ing the sub­ject a lit­tle bit of light, but I am not accen­tu­at­ing the light from the flash so it tends to look more nat­ural.‚ If you have a hot shoe mounted flash or a more pro­fes­sional flash that you mount on the cam­era, it will usu­ally be really, really easy to fig­ure out how to give less fill flash or neg­a­tive flash, let us say.‚ There are some arrows or there is some but­ton that allows you to do plus a third of a stop, plus two thirds of a stop, plus one stop, or minus a third, minus two thirds, minus one, minus two, minus three, etc., and you could just play with those and see the effect that you are going to get.‚ In fact, I highly rec­om­mend, espe­cially if you are not so famil­iar with fill flash, is to just go ahead and exper­i­ment, as always.‚ Take a shot with the reg­u­lar flash set­ting, just turn it on and shoot, see what you get.‚ Minus it by one stop of light, shoot it, see what you get.‚ Minus it by two stops of light shoot it, see what you get.‚ Com­pare all three and see which one is most pleas­ing for you.‚ It would be my guess that those shots that are minus one to minus two, they might well be the most pleas­ing shots, they cer­tainly are to me, but every­one is dif­fer­ent.‚ Of course, if you are going for the exact oppo­site effect, you could choose what­ever you want, but then I would sug­gest to you it is not called fill flash at all.‚ If you go plus one or plus two stops of light from the flash, you are doing the oppo­site, you are get­ting a cool effect if that is what you want, but then it is not called fill flash.‚ That is your main light and the main light is light­ing the sub­ject and the ambi­ent light is actu­ally act­ing as a sec­ondary light.‚ It is no longer the main light.‚ You can also, of course, use fill flash from sec­ondary sources of light by either hav­ing a sec­ondary flash some­where or a sec­ondary light some­where, but if you are already at that level, then you pretty much already know what you are doing.‚ I guess this par­tic­u­lar pod­cast is geared for just using your cam­era to add some extra light to the faces of some­one.‚ We are talk­ing in par­tic­u­lar about por­traits because it is really hard to fill flash or to use fill flash on a land­scape scene.‚ Flash typ­i­cally has a very short range or rea­son­ably short range and if you are tak­ing pic­ture of a moun­tain or any­thing like that, well, your flash will just never hit the moun­tain, it will never make a dif­fer­ence.‚ That is why it is par­tic­u­larly use­ful for por­trai­ture or even close up pho­tog­ra­phy, but pho­tog­ra­phy that is rel­a­tively close to the cam­era as opposed to land­scape or scenic pho­tog­ra­phy.
That cov­ers it for today’s show.‚ It was a really short show.‚ I will be putting up some pho­tographs on the blog that go along with the show notes and you could really see the dif­fer­ence by using minus one and minus two as opposed to the nor­mal shot and as opposed to no flash at all.‚ I am going to put those up so peo­ple can see the dif­fer­ences and hope­fully learn from them.‚ As always, if you are able to com­ment or choose to com­ment it is so appre­ci­ated and if you are inter­ested in hav­ing your pho­tographs cri­tiqued, well, just join the bul­letin board on, upload a cou­ple of pic­tures and it is absolutely my plea­sure to cri­tique them.‚ In fact, I would like more mem­bers to cri­tique them as well, but each and every shot that gets uploaded that peo­ple want cri­tiqued, it gets cri­tiqued by me.‚ I have a lit­tle bit of expe­ri­ence so I hope the tips that I have given other peo­ple thus far have been use­ful and appre­ci­ated.‚ Well, that is it for us again.‚ This was our fourth pod­cast on‚ We hope you enjoyed it.‚ As always, you can leave com­ments on the blog or through the bul­letin board and we will be back in two weeks’ time to do another pod­cast.‚ Thanks so much for lis­ten­ing every­one and happy shoot­ing!
[Cam­era clicks]


  1. admin says:

    hey H,

    Thanks for the compliments!

    Here’s a tip:
    First try the tech­nique OUTSIDE.
    (That way you’ll be sure that the out­side light is the main light and you’ll bet­ter be able to see the dif­fer­ence)
    Try it on a cloudy day where the main sub­ject is in shadow. For ease, make it a per­son under a tree in the shade.
    Shoot with­out flash. (test shot A)
    Then set flash to minus 1 or 2. you should DEFINITELY see the difference.

    Please let me know if you don’t and if I can be of more help.



  2. H.Robinson says:

    I came across your site through a search engine when I was look­ing for… pho­tog­ra­phy pod­casts… I am slowly work­ing my way through all your archives. This episode I hope will help me with my fill flash trou­bles. I hardly notice a dif­fer­ence between shots I take with a fill flash and ones that I take with­out. The faces just always seem too dark for me and I have to do a bit of post shoot edit­ing to get them right. Indoors I have lit­tle trou­ble. But, I’ll give your sug­ges­tions a try and see what I come up with. Thanks and your pod­casts are great! Keep up the good work.


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