Using Fill Flash to Photograph Direct Sunlight

When direct sunlight causes contrast to exceed your camera's latitude, consider using a fill flash. Beyond their normal illumination duties, flashes can compliment existing light.

Making a Flash a Fill Flash

Flashes are generally thought of as primary light sources. The only thing that changes when you call it a 'fill flash' is the way you use it. When you are confronted with harsh shadows, setting off the flash can illuminate these areas that were formerly lost. Since you already have a strong key light, the sun, you will want to make the flash feel ambient. Add some diffusion to it to soften the quality and make the effect appear more natural.

Frontal Light

Unless you have a flash that can be removed from the camera, the light will always be coming from a frontal angle. Consider this before deciding to use this technique. If your subject is out in the sun, there are several positions that they could have taken. The first possibility is that the sun is behind you and is shining straight into the subject's face. Since your flash is possibly at a lower angle than the sun, you can set it off to fill in the shadows in the eye sockets. Also, since your flash will not reach very far, especially in competition with the sun, it will only affect things that are close to the camera. So, the background will become darker in relation to the subject. This can be useful if your background is significantly brighter than your foreground, or if you simply want your foreground to pop.

Side Light

If the person is lit from the side, a fill flash may not help you much. The contrast from the person's light side to the person's dark side cannot be lessened by simply adding light to the whole thing. If your objective is to get the subject to pop out from the background, as was discussed in 'frontal light', then this would be the only use for a frontal flash. If you are able to detach the flash from the camera, then hold it out to the dark side of the subject and you will get the fill that you need. However, this may not be an option for you. As an alternative, consider using a white card to bounce some sunlight as fill.

Back Light

When a person is back lit, this will be the most obvious opportunity to use fill flash. With sunlight draping their shoulders and highlighting their hair, you will not be able to expose their face without the hot spots blowing out. Setting off some fill flash will alleviate this discrepancy. A frontal angle will definitely illuminate the face, but you can also consider using a side angle for a different look should the option be available to you.

Fill flash is just a new way to think about your existing equipment. You can now enhance harsh light situations without any further distress.

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