Tips and tutorials

7 questions you should ask yourself before using fill flash

Do you have trouble using fill flash? First, let me give you a brief idea about fill flash and why is it used. It is often noticed, particularly when you photograph backlit subjects, that the foreground turns dark while the background is properly exposed. And when you expose for the subject then the background will be over-exposed. This happens in a lot of other situations like when a harsh side light creating a strong shadow. You may not notice this with your eye since the human eye can cover a high dynamic range than a camera does. So, one has to use different techniques to even out the exposure. One of the techniques is using fill flash. As the name implies, it is filling the dark/shadow areas using a flash. In this post I am going to explain certain things you should consider before using fill flash.

 Ask these questions before using fill flash

1. What type of flash I have?

photograph of a dog using fill flash
Photo Credits: Johnathan Fleming

You may have a pop-up flash or an external Speedlite or flash gun. The type of flash has some significance when you use it as a fill flash. I will walk you through it.

2. In which direction the subject is placed?

All flashes may not work best as fill flashes. It depends on the direction of your subject. Almost every camera has pop-up flashes and it can be used as fill flash too. Most point and shoot camera fire the fill flash in automatic mode. One downside of using pop-up flash is that its direction cannot be changed – it is fixed in the camera. So if your subject is situated at an angle and when you photograph them, the flash cannot properly fill up the shadows.  But this is not an issue when you are using an external flash as you can keep the flash depending upon the position of your subject


3. Is the subject backlit?

If your subject is backlit – more light in the background – you can use the fill flash. A common situation of this sort is when your friend poses for you while the sun is behind.


4. Is the dynamic range of the scene is high enough for the camera to record?

Fill flash can be used for other situations when the scene has high dynamic range which your camera cannot record. One common example is when your friend is wearing a hat under harsh light creating a shadow on his/her face. Other example is strong side lighting.


5. How far is my subject from the flash?

This is a really important factor to consider before using fill flash. If your flash, with its maximum output power, is far away from the subject; the fill flash won’t work. The pop-up flashes can light up the subject upto 10 feet. But external flash guns can fire farther distances.

Photo Credits: Chris Hitchcock

6. How to use the flash’s power?

Your distance from the subject and flash’s power are related; you can increase the intensity of the flash depending upon your distance from the subject. You can increase the pop up flash output power using the Flash exposure compensation (FEC). And there are two kinds of external flashes – manual power flashes and automatic power flashes. The latter adjusts its output power depends on the exposure you set and in the former you have to adjust the power by yourself.

Photo Credits: Todd Lambert


7. How to control the intensity of light from the flash?

The quality of light is very important when you use fill flash otherwise it will make your images washed out/flat. A solution is to diffuse the light. One can diffuse the light using a myriad of ways – soft boxes, diffusers, shooting through/or against an umbrella etc. Usually flash light gives a blue tone to the image. You can fix this my using various gels in front of the flash. For example, an orange gel along with the flash will help you to get a proper skin tone.


Skate boarding in action
Photo Credits: Gage Thompson


So, that’s it. These are the important factors you should consider before using fill flash. I hope you are ready to use your flash for some fill flash photography. The most important thing you should do inorder to achieve good results is to experiment a lot with your flash. Try different flash intensities and figure out how to change it depending on your subject’s distance.

Do you have any tip to add onto this? Then feel free to drop comments/questions.

Next: Learn how to use fill flash


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Vidhu Soman

Vidhu is an enthusiastic photographer from Kerala, India. His desire to share his knowledge and experience on photography was the motivation for creating Shutterstoppers. His dream is to provide a platform for people all around the world to exchange ideas and information on everything related to photography. In addition to photography, he also has a keen interest in traveling, philately and science.

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