Lots of photographers love the high-speed sync look. But I think we can all also agree t’s getting kind of stale. Greener photographers call it the fill-flash look. And in some ways, that holds true. The point still is that we can all use flash to make the lighting in a scene look natural. What’s more, we can do this without a lot of post-production. It’s just about understanding the lighting in the scene and knowing how to blend. So, here’s a quick guide to avoiding the fill-flash look.
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Forget About TTL and Go with Manual Flash
I don’t think there’s a single photographer who wouldn’t agree with this statement. Forget about TTL. TTL works these days by looking at the aperture and ISO setting and then figuring out how much light to pump out. Most flashes are used off-camera these days. To that end, they’re also quite varying on where they might be placed. You can start avoiding the fill-flash look by using and controlling your flash and lighting manually.
The great thing about this is that you just have to set your ISO, shutter speed, and aperture all to the same setting. Your only variable will be your flash output and power. Cool, right?
The light from a flash is very small in relation to your subject, so you need a way to make it larger and therefore much softer. To do that, you need a large diffusion surface. Softboxes and scrims are very popular, but to be honest, I think the best diffusion tools are large umbrellas. They direct the light in a ton of different places. When it’s scattered and inefficient, it begins to look more natural. Of course, that statement varies based on the power output of the flash and placement of the giant umbrella.
Use white interior umbrellas or shoot-through umbrellas. They’ll diffuse the light in the most natural way possible and help create really gorgeous, natural-looking images.
Read the Light Meter
The key here is to read the light meter. Here’s a quick rundown of what to do to avoid the fill-flash look:
- Set the aperture to what you want. Lock that. Aperture typically controls how much flash output affects the scene.
- Set the ISO to a fairly low ISO outside. Lock that.
- Set the flash output. Lock that.
- Read the light meter. Look at the shutter speed. The slower the shutter speed, the more ambient light from the scene will affect the scene.
The faster the shutter speed, the less ambient light will make it into the scene. Therefore, the more the light from your flash will dominate. The slower your shutter speed, the more ambient light will hit the scene. You can blend this accordingly to mix the front fill-lighting from a diffused flash with the ambient lighting. This way, you’ll get the most natural flash output.
This whole set up works best outdoors when you need to shoot on location. It also works where there’s more controlled lighting like under a tree with shadows. But give this a try and you’ll see just how awesome the light can be.