Speedlights. . . Not Just For Indoors Anymore

Poor Speedlight Longing For The Outdoors

If you own a speedlight (hot-shoe mounted flash) for your digital SLR, chances are you seldom use it outdoors.

That poor speedlight of yours has been relegated to a life of indoor use. It’s missing out on all the opportunities to add some life to your outdoor portraits of people, pets, flowers and such. Isn’t it time you experienced what just a little fill flash can do for you?

If you are not taking your speedlight outside it may be you’ve either tried it and hated the results, or you are just not sure where to start.

While this post is not intended as the definitive guide to outdoor, balanced fill flash, it should at least give you the confidence to take that flash outside and give fill a try.

Here’s what I want you to do. . .

1) Attach your speed light to your camera’s hot shoe.

2) Set your flash to whatever version of TTL it uses.

3) If your flash has a High Speed Sync mode, use it.

4) Put your camera in Aperture Priority mode set to f/5.6.

5) Set your ISO at 100-200; not Auto ISO.

6) Take your camera and flash outside into the sunlight.

Now have some fun. Find a side or back-lit flower. . . position your favorite portrait subject with the sun at his or her side. . . stake out a bird feeder. . .  stalk your pet around the yard.

Here’s where the real fun begins. It’s time to get familiar with Flash Exposure Compensation (FEC). That’s a long term for a flash adjustment that’s amazingly simple to use. Either on the back of your flash, or somewhere on your camera body, you will find the little flash symbol (lighting bolt) along with a +/- symbol.

Push the button next to these symbols to access a +/- flash adjustment. (If needed, refer to your flash or camera manual for FEC adjustment directions.)

This little adjustment gives you complete control over how bright the flash lights your subject. Take a picture; if the subject has that FLASH USED HERE look, hit the FEC button and adjust to –minus FEC. Need a little more light to make your subject pop, hit the button and adjust to +plus FEC.

Outdoors I find I am usually adjusting FEC to between minus 1 and 2 stops. I want to use just enough fill flash to bring my subject to life, but not so much that the image screams—Flash!

Take a look at the first row of images in the samples below. “S” stands for shutter speed, and FEC for flash exposure compensation.

Top row, left to right, 0 FEC (the camera default) –1 stop FEC (darker), and +1 stop FEC (brighter). You can see how this simple FEC adjustment varied the flash exposure on my flowers. FEC puts you in complete control of how your outdoor fill flash images look.

You now know how to use FEC; an important tool pros use to improve their outdoor portraits. We are not done though — outdoor fill flash gives you the extra benefit of controlling background brightness as well.

Referring back to the sample images. The middle row shows how I can vary the brightness of my sunlit background. In aperture priority mode the camera set a shutter speed of 1/200 of a second.

Changing the camera to manual and setting the shutter speed to 1/100th allows more sunlight to record. The results is a brighter background behind my flowers. The far right image shows that a 1/400th shutter speed allows less sunlight to record resulting in a darker background.

The final image shows how I combined a –minus 1-stop flash exposure compensation with a faster shutter speed (I used 1/400 with my flash in high speed sync mode) to light my subject to my taste and also darken the background slightly.

Two adjustments give you complete control over the final image.

Now it’s your turn. Take your speedlight outside and try outdoor Fill Flash with Flash Exposure Compensation.

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4 Responses to “Speedlights. . . Not Just For Indoors Anymore”

  1. Tweets that mention Speedlights. . . Not Just For Indoors Anymore « RG's Digital Photography Tips -- Topsy.com Says:

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Cam Davis, Randy Grosse. Randy Grosse said: New post on outdoor fill flash. http://fb.me/BGjYG1m5 […]

  2. Simple Fill Flash For Outdoor Headshots and Senior Portraits « RG's Digital Photography Tips Says:

    […] to take beautiful portraits. Monitor the exposures as you shoot. Adjust flash brightness using Flash Exposure Compensation (FEC+/-). I normally start with FEC set at minus one. You can also adjust the brightness of the […]

  3. Sophie Says:

    It’s hard to find knowledgeable people about this topic, but you sound like you know what you’re talking about!
    Thanks

  4. rommelrutor Says:

    Reblogged this on Words and Images.

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