Photography Tips: How To Use a Flash Outside

Photography tips can be helpful when deciding how to use a flash outside. The sun is shining bright, and there's plenty of daylight. So, a photographer doesn't need to use the flash, right? Unfortunately, that's wrong. When there's plenty of daylight, there are also plenty of shadows. Photographers need to use the flash outside in certain circumstances. So, here are some tips on how to use the flash outside.  And, to create good outside shots, a photographer only needs a good camera and perhaps a few peripherals.

Step 1: Figure out When the Flash Is Needed

The general rule when it comes to using flash outside is that if the sun is high overhead, use the flash. The flash will brighten up any dark shadows that are created by the sun shining down. This is especially true if photographing living objects. Faces have shadows already, and the sun just creates more shadows.

But, because there is so much light, photographers don't need a lot of flash. Try setting the aperture within two stops. Try experimenting with that to see if it gives enough light. If not, try opening up the aperture a bit more.

Step 2: Bring out the Color

Flash is needed in outdoor shots to ensure that the subject's color does not get washed out. Just like flash can over-expose pictures, so can the sun. The flash will give just enough contrast to eliminate shadows and brighten up the subject. This will ensure that vibrant reds, yellows, blues, etc. are not lost under the glare of the sun.

Step 3: Using a Removable Flash

The goal of the flash is to "fill-in" the shadows. Basically, the flash needs to remove the shadows created by the sun. Oftentimes, built-in flashes aren't adequate since the photographer is trying to take the picture from one angle, but the shadows are being caused by something at a different angle. External flashes, however, can be removed and placed so that they will illuminate the subject.

A photographer should try experimenting with this before taking his final portrait. Try setting up the external flash at several angles until the subject is completely illuminated. Then, try taking the picture.

Also, if the photographer does have time to set up the shot, he should do so. Set up the flash, and then set up something reflective for it to bounce off of. This can be as simple as a white board on the opposite side of the flash. This is especially important if taking portraits.  The reflective object will ensure that the flash fully illuminates the subject's face and disperses any lingering shadows. 

A tripod may also be necessary in these situations. The camera can be left in the optimum spot while the scene is being set up.

Step 4: Practice Makes Perfect

Like any type of photography, it's not easy to get the perfect picture on the first try.  Instead, many pictures will have to be taken, and lots of experimentation will be necessary.  Sometimes the external flash will create more shadows as opposed to dispelling the current ones, and a photographer will have to go back to the drawing board.  Just be sure to bring plenty of memory cards.