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Fill-In Flash
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Fill-In Flash

Although making dark places brighter is the primary use of flash, the next-best place to use it, surprisingly, is outdoors in bright sunlight. One of the problems of taking pictures—especially individual or group portraits—using midday sun is that the harsh lighting creates deep, distracting shadows. In people pictures, this usually means dark eye sockets and unattractive shadows under the nose and lips. Fill-in flash lightens these shadows to create more attractive portraits.

Fill-in flash looks most natural when it's about a stop darker than the main light. When the flash-to-daylight ratio is too even, or when flash overpowers the existing light, the balance looks false and draws attention to the fact that you used flash. Until the advent of built-in and dedicated accessory flash, calculating for fill-in flash was like doing the math for sending a rocket into another galaxy. It was easier (and quicker) to wait for a hazy day.

Today, most built-in and dedicated flash units have a special mode just for fill-in flash. Basically, all you do is point and shoot. The camera reads the ambient lighting and then kicks out just enough flash to fill shadows but leaves the picture natural-looking. Many dedicated accessory flash units even let you set a specific flash-to-daylight ratio, so you can make the fill more or less bright. Because a dedicated flash's output is mated to the autofocusing system, the camera even knows how far away your subject is.

Fill-in flash shouldn't be limited to taking pictures of people. I frequently use it to open up the deep shadows in close-ups of flowers or architectural details.

Next: "Using Your Light Meter"