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DSLR Tips Workshop: How to brighten daytime portraits with a fill-in flash

If you’re taking photos of people on a bright or overcast day, you can often find them appearing a little too dark on the photo. This is because the camera’s been fooled by the bright background and reduced its exposure to compensate. The result is a perfect-looking background but an underexposed person in front of it. The trick here is not to brighten the overall exposure, but to simply use your flash to boost the foreground light. This is called a ‘fill-in’ flash and in this workshop I’ll show you what you need to do.

The photo above left was taken on an overcast day with the camera’s automatic settings, where the background looks fine but the person’s underexposed. In the photo above right, I’ve simply set the flash to go off. This has provided a boost to the foreground, illuminating the person while keeping the background perfectly exposed. In my video tutorial below, I’ll explain how to achieve this effect, and at the bottom of the page you’ll find a reminder of the steps you’ll need to take.


Checklist: How to take portraits with a ‘fill-in’ flash

1: Switch your camera to Program mode by turning the mode dial to ‘P’.

2: Popup your built-in flash. On some models you’ll press a button labelled with a lightening symbol, while on others you’ll manually lift the flash open. Check your manual.

3: Simply take the photo as before. Your camera will balance the light from the flash and the background.

4: If the person is now too bright, either set your flash compensation settings to a negative value, or simply stand back a little.

5: After taking your photo, push the flash back down for protection and if desired, set the mode dial back to Auto mode.

Equipment tip

Built-in flashes aren’t very powerful and are only effective over a short range. So if you’d like your flash to reach further, consider buying an external flashgun. These are much more powerful than the built-in flashes, but modern ones are still fully automatic. They’re a very handy accessory to have.

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All words, images, videos and layout, copyright 2007-2020 Gordon Laing. May not be used without permission.

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