Fill Flash in Photography Step by Step

  • 01 of 04

    What is Fill Flash?

    Squirrel image taken with fill flash. © Liz Masoner 2007 licensed to About.com


    What is Fill Flash?
    Fill flash generally means that a photographer has used a flash to "fill in" shadowy areas of a composition. When used along with good techniques for preventing dark images, fill flash is a very effective tool for improving your images. To be truly effective, fill flash should be used with care and planning. Fill flash is NOT just turning on your flash and leaving it on in all situations.

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  • 02 of 04

    When to Use Fill Flash

    Backlit photo that would benefit from fill flash. © Liz Masoner 2007 licensed to About.com
    When to Use Fill Flash
    There are three questions you can ask yourself when taking photographs that will help you determine whether or not you should use fill flash on that image.
    • Is my subject in a shadow?
    • Is there more light behind my subject than in front of it?
    • Am I close enough for flash?
    If your subject (or part of your subject) is in a shadow, fill flash can help you even out the exposure across your subject. A prime example of this is a person wearing a hat outdoors. Often the hat will create...MORE a shadow directly across the subject's eyes. Using fill flash will illuminate the eyes without overexposing the rest of the image.If there more light behind your subject than in front of it, your image is "backlit". Even though your eye may be able to read the scene very well, remember that the camera does not record light the same way you do. If there is a lot of light behind a subject, the camera will almost always underexpose your image - even if you meter off of the subject itself.If the answer to either of the first two questions is "yes", then consider the third question. Even in situations where your photograph would benefit from fill flash, if you are not close enough to use a flash it is a moot point. The flash that is built into your camera is usually only powerful enough to light a subject about 9 feet away from you indoors. This distance is further compromised when outdoors and in brighter situations.
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  • 03 of 04

    When Not to Use Fill Flash

    Much like decided when to use a fill flash, the same three questions can be used to help determine if you should not use a fill flash.

    • Is my subject in a shadow?
    • Is there more light behind my subject than in front of it?
    • Am I close enough for flash?
    If the answer to these questions is "no" then fill flash is probably not a good choice for that particular image. There are also additional concerns for lighting situations that will preclude the use of fill flash.
    Flash is a very intense white...MORE light. We've all seen those images where the flash has completely overexposed or washed out the color in a scene. Flash can destroy the light tone of a scene. If you want to capture the golden glow of leaves at sunset, fill flash should not be used. A better choice would be to use night photography basics to take advantage of a longer exposure to capture the light quality.If your subject is a weaker light source than your flash, like a fire or hot coals, fill flash shouldn't be used. If you use fill flash with flames you will lose the definition and detail in the flames themselves. In situations such as these a reflector may be a better choice of additional light.
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  • 04 of 04

    How to Set Up Fill Flash

    The goal of fill flash is to help illuminate a scene, not overpower the subject or other light sources. This idea should always be kept in mind when using fill flash. To help ensure that fill flash works properly you must
    • Know your flash's power
    • Know what you want the image to look like
    Take the time to experiment with your camera's flash in different lighting situations and at different distances. This will help you learn the power of your flash so you can better determine if the fill...MORE flash will help or hurt an image. If you do not know the power of your flash you can not properly predict how it will light a scene.As with any image, you need to have an idea of how you want the image to look before you shoot it. Do you want there to be shadows behind the subject? What about light shadows angled on the face to help define features? Do you want an even light across the entire image? Questions like these must be answered in your mind before using fill flash. These answers will determine if you use an on-camera flash, an off camera flash, a diffuser on your flash, what angle the flash should be at, and how close you put the flash to your subject.Once you have the answers to these questions you will know what flash to use, if a diffuser is needed, and where to place the flash. From that point its a simple matter of pressing the shutter button to finish your image.