Fill Flash

When people ask me, "What's the one thing I can do to improve my pictures?"

I answer: "Fill flash."

I've been thinking a lot about this technique lately. Mainly, because I don't know if I would have survived the last couple weeks without it.

I've mentioned on the TDS podcast that I'm in the middle of a big project with a local credit union. It's a series of outdoor portraits in various locations throughout Northern California.

I've faced two major challenges, and one has led to the other. The first is balancing a variety of schedules for the photo shoots. Since the subjects are not professional models, we have to squeeze our sessions in to what little time is available for them.

As it's turned out, we're shooting in mid-to-late afternoon light. In August, that's some pretty contrasty stuff. Which leads me to my second challenge, getting great portraits in harsh light.

I've depended on my trusty friend, fill flash, to survive. If you want to see the rig I'm using, take a look at this article that I just published on c't Digital Photography MagazineThe Low-Tech Solution to Wireless Fill Flash.

The thing about using flash is that it's counter-intuitive for beginning photographers. I turn off the flash when the light is low (going with fast lenses and ambient illumination), and I turn it on outdoors for portraits when it's incredibly bright. Nuts, right?

Not really. The flash evens out those terrible facial shadows when the sun is high. My other favorite scenario is for sunset portraits. A little pop of light on the subject with a colorful sky is truly magical. 

So if someone asks you, what is the one thing they can do to improve their photography?

You know what to say.