Exercise 2.8 Fill-flash

Flash isn’t just useful to illuminate a dark scene, but to bring out a foreground subject with a flash that is balanced with ambient light – be that sunlight or artificial light. You can see many examples of fill-flash in Martin Parr’s photographs at http://www.martinparr.com.

You can use an on-camera flash or an external flash for this exercise.

1. Take a subject – a person for example – and frame them against the sky. Make sure the sky is either a cloudy sky or the most intensely blue portion of the sky – on the opposite side from the sun.

2. Put your camera into Manual mode and activate the flash. Flash units usually give you different strengths of flash output: minimum, medium and maximum, for example. You may want to experiment with these later, but for now, use medium.

3. Take a photograph of the subject and review it. Is the person’s face too bright and overexposed? Is the background sky too dark?

4. Now balance these two elements. At slower shutter speeds the background will become lighter. At fast shutter speeds, the background will be progressively underexposed (darker).

5. To change the illumination on the subject use a combination of flash output and aperture (f-stop) to darken (close aperture) or lighten (open aperture) the foreground subject. The balance is achieved because the flash will illuminate the f/g subject by the same amount whatever the shutter speed. But the shutter speed will change the b/g exposure.

When you have a balance you like between the subject and the background, take a short series of pictures varying your position from close to distant. You’ll need to make adjustments to the aperture or flash output strength when you change the distance between you and the subject due to light fall-off.



It was the most difficult section of this part – to learn how to successfully use a flash. I had to experiment many times over to get close to decent outcomes. Either it was too dark or too bright, but I believe that practice makes one perfect. Well, this is nowhere close to perfect but I have been able to overcome my fear of the flash by attempting these exercises – along with night portrait.

Another great learning from the flash exercises was how useful it is for everyday photography. Using fill flash is a great way for filling in those shadows that are so annoying while doing outdoor photography in the day. Although it appears very technical, I suppose it’s only a matter of getting used to it and once you get the hang of it, you will never understand how you survived without it. It’s a great and handy way to fill in those unwanted shadows and give an even and balanced look to the overall image.

It definitely needs more follow up to master the flash but these two exercises are a great stepping stone to further learning and exploration. Am just pleased to get over my fear of the flash. I think this entire Part II – something totally new for me and something I usually shy away from has been a great learning source and I enjoyed myself thoroughly.

References fill flash/night photography:

  1. https://improvephotography.com/flash-photography-basics/
  2. http://www.filmsnotdead.com/a-retrospective-of-weegees-work-1932-1960/
  3. https://www.theguardian.com/cities/gallery/2015/mar/31/the-best-of-weegees-new-york-street-photography-in-pictures
  4. https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/gallery/2012/jan/19/weegee-murder-photographs-pictures-new-york
  5. http://untappedcities.com/2016/05/25/weegees-bowery-of-flophouses-and-drunks-photos-on-exhibit-from-icp/
  6. https://creators.vice.com/en_au/article/xy457k/see-grisly-photos-from-the-godfather-of-crime-scene-photography
  7. https://photography.tutsplus.com/tutorials/quick-tip-how-to-take-great-portrait-photos-at-night–photo-16680
  8. https://photography.tutsplus.com/tutorials/exposure-explained-iso-shutter-speed-and-aperture-for-night-photography–cms-24706
  9. https://photography.tutsplus.com/tutorials/zoom-versus-prime-lenses-for-night-photography–cms-22660
  10. https://photography.tutsplus.com/tutorials/manual-versus-autofocus-lenses-for-night-photography–cms-22273
  11. https://photography.tutsplus.com/tutorials/how-to-set-up-your-digital-slr-for-night-photography–cms-24099
  12. https://photography.tutsplus.com/tutorials/how-to-set-and-control-your-camera-manually-for-night-photography–cms-25179
  13. https://photography.tutsplus.com/articles/observation-visualisation-and-composition-for-night-photography–cms-23589
  14. https://digital-photography-school.com/using-fill-flash/
  15. https://digital-photography-school.com/how-to-mix-ambient-light-and-fill-flash-for-outdoor-portraits/

6 Replies to “Exercise 2.8 Fill-flash”

  1. How did you find the exercise Archna? What have you learned from the process?

    I think your results look very natural and have good saturation and vibrance. When I’ve tried with fill flash I have lost those. I think I was standing too close.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It was very scary Richard, to begin with. I had to first buy a speed light and looking at it, I got so nervous – it just appeared to be too technical. I attempted this exercise a few times before it was half decent. So don’t worry, you are not alone. Its probably exactly what you have said – you were too close. Also, try reducing the intensity of the flash or play with the aperture to make it darker or lighter. Also, you may try to face the mouth of the flash away from the subject and bounce it off a wall or ceiling. I found that quite satisfying as it took the harshness of the white light that creates unwanted highlights and provided a softer even light on the subject. Hope this helps. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thats very much appreciated Archna. I am going to have to read my camera manual on the built in flash, and Iwill be aware of changing the aperture. I think that I will need to invest in a speedlight.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Archna, these are such good images. and your model a great poser! I tend to use fill flash on a low setting quite a lot, but the results are not as vibrant as this, and the “stand out” feature much less. I agree about the distance. As you say practice is the only solution.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Sarah. That’s my son who I had to pester to model for me. Well, to be honest, flash is not one of my favourite things. It’s just difficult to work with and for me, it was quite a struggle. But repeated practice helped. There is a whole body of discarded work that didn’t create such an effective result. But this is one challenge that I want to learn and master. And hopefully using it more and more will make us all better at it.


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