Off Camera Fill Flash for Portrait Outdoors

February 10, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

Whats there to taking a picture.  Just point and shoot right?  I hear that a lot. I used to feel this way until I started to take photography seriously. Once I started doing that, I quickly realized how much I did not know about photography. First, the composition, the camera and settings ( manual vs all other modes), light etc...the list goes on. Wait!! Did I say Light?  I recall when I first started to study light and its importance with regards to photography. I'm still learning about light. You can manipulate light or create light to compose a certain look or mood. Outdoors there is an abundance of light, but... at different temperatures and intensities it can and will be a challenge for portraiture. Challenges like getting proper exposure, foreground vs background. One or the other might be under or over exposed. I love pointing things like this out to clients or friends. It helps them realize that there is more to photography than pointing and shooting. It helps them see why a photographer might charge what he does. Once people realize the time and effort goes into a photo, they don't mind paying for it. Remember, a Pro makes it look easy.  Why?  Because they are a Pro!! They do it all the time, so it looks easy to us. But...... doing, is a different story. I showed a client a photo contest I had entered. We looked at the photos in the contest and then the winner. I had pointed out that although it did win the contest, it could have been done differently, where as the sky would not be blown out. I explained that, in that situation, the sky could have been exposed properly for detail but the inner scene would be dark so a flash would have to be used to fill in the darker area. When the client went home, he looked at some photos he took and saw the skies blown out. This was something he did not realize before. I had ruined his photo's or impressions of them.  I look at it as, I've helped him improve the photos he will take in the future. 

Todays post demonstrates the difference using off camera fill flash and natural light. I went to the Eramosa Karsk, in Hamilton Ontario, back in October to practice shooting portraits in a forest setting. I brought my 42" reflective umbrella and stand to mount the flash on.  I had gone from constant lights to flash and wanted to practice using it in a real type setting, like I was on a paid portrait shoot. We walked through the trail system and scouted out some possible locations within. The first was a small bridge which in the end was not an ideal location. For todays purposes the photos used here are a good demonstration of off camera flash vs natural light. I had setup the umbrella just to the left of the camera about 45 degrees above the subject.

 Photo #1 shot using no flash.

  Natural LightISO 100, shutter speed 1/125 sec at f/5.0, Flash did not fire.

Photo # 2 with off camera fill flash.

   Using Fill FlashISO 100, shutter speed 1/125 sec at f/5.0, Flash did fire.

You can see the difference in the detail the first photo is sort of dull looking where as in the second photo the subjects shadows are filled in creating less of a raccoon look in the eye area and less shadow under the neck. It also creates a catch light in the subjects eyes and illuminates the face and hair. How much power you use  will change the outcome of the photo. Too much and the subject looks photoshopped or green screened on a backdrop. Adjust the flash power to your liking though to create just the right look for you. Later in the shoot I put the flash on the camera but bounced off a 5 in 1 reflector ( white side ) which I held behind the camera to the left. This still gave a fill flash look in tight areas or where space is minimal. I don't use the camera's own flash as it is really limited for what it can do. Maybe as a trigger for a setup without TTL cord or wireless triggers. Too much ambient light though and it would be useless. I shoot all manual, flash and camera. This gives me the most control over the final product.