Newbie needs help with using fill flash

Discussion in 'Photography' started by Professional Dad, May 7, 2004.

  1. I recently took a photo of my parents sitting on a swing in a
    botanical garden. The sunlight was mostly broken by the trees but
    there was still some hitting them in areas of their faces. So I
    decided to use the flash to remove or soften the shadows. I took my
    first shot from about 15 ft and realized I forgot to switch the flash
    on (always a big help). Then I moved a bit closer - to maybe 10-12 ft
    away- and took the second shot. The first photo clearly shows all of
    the great foilage from the gardens behind them but their faces are
    shadowed like I expected. The background foilage was probably 15-20
    back. In the second shot with the flash the background is almost
    black. You can hardly tell they are in a garden but their faces are
    exposed nicely.

    So what is the trick to getting the effect of the fill flash on their
    faces but not losing the background? (Used Canon A-1, ISO100 film, I
    think it was on AE)

    Professional Dad, May 7, 2004
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  2. Professional Dad

    Mike Kohary Guest

    Was the lighting similar to these?

    In those shots, I tried to achieve a middle ground between exposing for the
    highlights and exposing for the shadows, but you can see I favored the
    shadows (the highlights are slightly blown out, but attractively so IMO). I
    don't think any camera can capture the full range, so it's always a
    balancing act. I didn't use any flash at all, but that's me - I only use
    flash as an absolute last resort. Truth be told, I bracketed these shots
    and selected the best exposure later, which didn't feel wasteful because I
    use digital. :) Digital really shines in situations like you describe,
    because you get instant feedback and can always re-take the shot if
    necessary, or bracket without worrying about wasting film.

    Hopefully someone else with more flash expertise can help with your specific
    question about fill. But you might want to practice shooting in shadows
    with no flash, and you may find you like the results.

    Mike Kohary, May 7, 2004
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  3. Professional Dad

    Lisa Horton Guest

    I'm not sure how this correlates to an A1, but on later Canon SLRs you
    would want to be in Aperture Priority mode to use fill flash in this
    way. It sounds like your camera/flash combination decided that since
    you were in full auto mode, the flash was to be the main source of
    light. Obviously this is not what you intended. I would suggest trying
    a similar shot in Av or Aperture Priority mode, and if possible, also
    try -1 stop Flash Exposure Compensation.

    Lisa Horton, May 8, 2004
  4. Personally in this situation I wouldn't even use a flash. (Then again, I
    detest artifical lighting, and almost all of my photos are without flash.)
    But seriously, I think the two best options are to (1) use a slow shutter
    speed or (2) push the film. Using a slow shutter speed has the advantage of
    keeping the photo at high resolution but runs the risk of your subjects
    blurring, due to the fact that the shutter speed is slow. Pushing the film
    has the advantage of allowing you to maintain a high shutter speed (I would
    recommend at least 1/90), preventing a blur, but adds to the graininess of
    the picture.

    In case you aren't familiar with pushing film, I am going to try to explain
    it to you. Skip this paragraph if you know it. On most cameras, you can
    override the ISO rating of the film. Setting your camera to act at a higher
    speed ISO will "push" the film, allowing you to achieve slower shutter
    speeds for the same lighting conditions and apertures. Pushing film to the
    next stop ISO (doubling the ISO rating) allows you to either make the
    shutter open and close twice as quickly or to close the aperture one stop.
    Thus, it is called pushing the film one stop. When you go to a development
    studio, many of the better ones (don't try this at CVS :-D) will allow you
    to request your film be pushed when processed. A special development
    technique is required to be able to handle the pushed film -- normal
    development will yield underexposed pictures. When you go to the studio, try
    to use the correct terminology. It is likely they will laugh at you if you
    say "This film must be pushed to ISO 800." If you're referring to ISO 400
    film, say "This film must be pushed 1 stop." Your exposure meter should be
    able to compensate when you notify it that you are pushing the film, but if
    it doesn't, simply realize that a one-stop push allows you to double the
    speed; a two-stop push, quadruple the speed, etc. So ISO 200 pushed to ISO
    800 is a two-stop push, 200 to 1600 is three stops, and just keep doubling
    to get to where you want. It's really simple, despite this long paragraph.

    So that's what offer. Remember that this is coming from someone that hates
    artifical lighting and will destroy it upon sight. Don't get me wrong, I
    realize that artifical lighting is important in some environments, but I
    just like the feel of natural light myself.

    -- Matt
    Matthew Del Buono, May 8, 2004
  5. Most modern cameras have a "slow-sync" flash option. This can help where
    there is background detail which you want to keep.

    Not sure about your camera/flash combination, but you could perhaps
    experiment with taking the picture at a slower shutter speed.
    I am sure there will be better descriptions of this somewhere on the

    Dennis Bradley, May 8, 2004

  6. Actually I had the camera in Auto-Flash mode which if I understand it
    correctly sets the shutter speed to 1/60 and then takes over control
    of the aperture based on what range I set on the back of the flash
    unit. I had it set for the smallest aperture. I guess I need to dig
    out the book and see how to use the exp. compensation with the flash.
    Thanks for the tips all. Practicing some shots in the shadows to see
    how it performs sounds like a good idea.
    Professional Dad, May 8, 2004
  7. Professional Dad

    dadiOH Guest

    Lie to your flash unit. Tell it you are using a larger aperture than you
    are so it puts out less light. Fill flash should be just that - fill. How
    much should you lie? Can't say, depends on your flash unit...try one stop
    and if that isn't enough go to two.

    The other way - the best way - to balance flash and ambient light is via
    shutter speed vs f stop. Unfortunately, that isn't a very viable solution
    except with between the lens shutters...they are _far_ superior for flash.


    dadiOH's dandies v3.0...
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    dadiOH, May 8, 2004
  8. Professional Dad

    dadiOH Guest

    Probably because you haven't learned to use it.

    But seriously, neither one will do a damn thing to resolve the poster's


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    dadiOH, May 8, 2004
  9. Professional Dad

    dadiOH Guest

    Dragging the shutter won't help. If he does, he'll have to decrease the
    aperture to maintain proper exposure for the ambient light. What he needs
    to do is decrease flash intensity so it doesn't overwhelm the ambient light.


    dadiOH's dandies v3.0...
    ....a help file of info about MP3s, recording from
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    dadiOH, May 8, 2004
  10. Professional Dad

    dadiOH Guest

    One big benefit of learning to use auxiliary light - be it single flash,
    multiple flash, reflectors or whatever - is that one begins to learn to
    _see_ light. Unfortunately, that is something that relatively few
    photographers ever do.


    dadiOH's dandies v3.0...
    ....a help file of info about MP3s, recording from
    LP/cassette and tips & tricks on this and that.
    Get it at
    dadiOH, May 8, 2004
  11. Professional Dad

    Mike Kohary Guest

    I don't use flash unless absolutely necessary (precisely because I
    can't see it, and I admit I'm not much interested in learning, at
    least at this point in time), but I use artificial light in the form
    of continuous light sources and reflectors, and I agree you begin to
    "see" light. There are some things that are simply impossible to
    achieve without artificial light, and it limits your repetoire if you
    don't use them.

    I get a lot of ideas from movies. Watch some of the great
    cinematographic movies - "American Beauty", "E.T.", "The Godfather"
    among many many more - and you can start to see what the
    cinematographer did and imagine where his lights are and what they
    might be. Greats like Conrad Hall Sr. made indoor daylight interiors
    by using bright lights outside windows at night, and being able to
    completely control things, he was able to make scenes that would have
    been impossible (or extremely difficult, anyway) using natural
    daylight instead. "Halloween" is a wonderful example of using dark
    shadows and selective highlights to create massive
    textures..."Schindler's List" is the ultimate in black and white
    photography...the list goes on and on...


    "Worry is like interest paid | Mike Kohary
    in advance on a debt that |
    never comes due." |

    Karma Photography
    Mike Kohary, May 8, 2004
  12. I also detest artificial lighting, and in general dislike using flash.
    But *fill* flash is, IMHO, an absolute must. Sure, unless you're
    precisely trying to capture the high contrast resulting from shadows,
    such as the children photos that another poster showed us in this
    same thread -- but then, that's an entirely different story.

    Carlos Moreno, May 9, 2004
  13. Professional Dad

    dadiOH Guest

    You can if you pop the flash and look. That is, pop the flash without
    taking a picture. One can also imagine :)
    Yes, they are masters of light.


    dadiOH's dandies v3.0...
    ....a help file of info about MP3s, recording from
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    dadiOH, May 9, 2004
  14. Professional Dad

    ericm1600 Guest

    The aperture controls the flash exposure. Open up the aperture, and the
    faces that were properly exposed will be overexposed. Leave the aperture

    Once the aperture is set, the shutter speed determines the ambient exposure.
    Since the background was too dark, a longer shutter speed will help.

    Decreasing the flash power by itself won't increase the ambient exposure.
    You'd need to decrease the flash and open up the aperture.
    ericm1600, May 9, 2004
  15. Professional Dad

    dadiOH Guest

    Except that in his case the background was 15-20' away and came out nearly
    black. If he decreased his shutter one step to 1/30 background detail would
    be improved only slightly. Going down to 1/15 is unrealistic unless he was
    using a tripod.
    1. Let us assume a correct ambient exposure of 1/60 @ f 8

    2. Poster wants to use fill flash to soften dappled light/shadows on faces
    and sets flash to f 8

    3. Result is good faces, black background. Faces were 10-12' away,
    background 15-20.

    That means that the ambient light was overwhelmed by the flash. There are
    two possible solutions:

    1. Move the flash off camera and place it farther from subjects. With the
    flash on camera, the background is receiving approximately two stops less
    light than the subject. If he moves the light 10' farther from the subjects
    the distance ratio twixt light:subject and light:backgrounfd is reduced and
    the background would receive 1 stop more light. I'm figuring 10' for
    subject, 20' for background. I'm also betting this is not a viable solution
    for him

    2. Reduce intensity of flash. Which is what I said originally. He needs to
    maintain correct exposure for ambient light and reduce the intensity of
    flash relative to it. When he does that the background will be more
    correct; the dappled light on subjects faces will still be there but will be


    dadiOH's dandies v3.0...
    ....a help file of info about MP3s, recording from
    LP/cassette and tips & tricks on this and that.
    Get it at
    dadiOH, May 9, 2004
  16. Actually, they're more like masters of post-processing (in addition
    to masters of light :)); if you look at "raw footage" of typical
    night or dark scenes, they're shot during the day, and/or in closed
    sets with full illumination. Then, they're processed to achieve
    whatever lighting effect they want.

    I'm no filmmaker, so I can not know for sure that *all* movies are
    shot with this technique, but I have seen samples of *many* movies
    and TV series that use this technique; given that this is sooooo
    much simpler than getting the right illumination effect in the raw
    footage, I'm guessing it might be a standard technique.

    Carlos Moreno, May 9, 2004
  17. Professional Dad

    Greg Guest

    What you need to do is set the camera on slow-sync (or slow-sync rear
    if your camera has it. What this does is selects the correct exposure
    level for the background, and then adds just enough flash to nicely
    expose your subjects faces. I don't know the A-1 camera but suspect
    it doesn't have rear curtain sync (fires flash at end of exposure) but
    may have normal slow sync. If you have a night mode program mode then
    this will probably do the same thing, give it a go. Basically you
    will need to use slow sync w/ fill flash for this or you will never
    get the balance right (except perhaps with a lot of manual
    Greg, May 10, 2004
  18. Professional Dad

    D.R. Guest

    In the above scenario, what would happen if the person
    stuck the camera on manual 1/60 and F8 for correct
    metered exposure of background. Then used a flash in TTL
    mode but with about -2 stops compensation on the flash?
    What would the effect be?

    What about using a diffuser on the flash in my solution?
    D.R., May 10, 2004
  19. Professional Dad

    dadiOH Guest

    That's what he should do. And that's what I told him originally...lie to
    the flash. The effect is a weak flash that fills shadows but which doesn't
    overpower and wipe out the ambient light.
    That's what we used to do before automatic handkerchief
    thickness = -1 stop. Won't do anything with auto flash though as the light
    output is being measured whether or not it is diminished/diffused.

    The main purpose of a diffuser these days is to turn the reflector pattern
    from a very precise one with virtually zero edge fall off to one with broad,
    even coverage and a slow fall off. The fall off is useful to feather the
    light; i.e., aim it so close objects are illuminated by the edge rays, more
    distant ones by the center. Result is a more evenly illuminated subject
    from foreground to background.


    dadiOH's dandies v3.0...
    ....a help file of info about MP3s, recording from
    LP/cassette and tips & tricks on this and that.
    Get it at
    dadiOH, May 10, 2004
  20. stuck the camera on manual 1/60 and F8 for correct
    I'll have to dig out the manuals to see if I can use slow sync with
    the A-1. BUt the flash is not TTL. It has it's own sensor. If it is
    not TTL can I still fool it by choosing a different aperature on the
    flash unit? (Speedlite 199A)
    Professional Dad, May 11, 2004
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