How do you use fill flash?


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Oct 3, 2010
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New Mexico
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I am going to be taking some team and individual pictures for my daughter's soccer team soon. I have been practicing with her and some of her friends recently to try and perfect the technique. The pictures will be taken probably around 4 or 5 pm and I am not counting on a cloudy day. I have been reading that it is possible to take pictures in direct sunlight with the subject between the camera and sun, then use fill flash to get rid of any shadows. I have tried this a little, but not getting great results. I am using a Canon T1i with a Canon 28-70L f/2.8 lens. My flash is the Canon 580EX II, using a sync cable I have the flash on a bracket which takes it off the hot shoe, but not completely away from the camera. What is the best settings for using fill flash? Using ETTL, the camera sets the shutter to 1/200 and then I set the aperture to what I want and I have stopped the flash down 1 and even 2 stops using flash compensation. The pictures that come out of the camera are completely blown out if I use f/2.8. I would like to use a wide aperture to get the background to be blurry, but at f/2.8 and 1/200 WITH flash, that is just way too much light. Is there a way to do this and still have a wide aperture? I can't meter without flash and then set the camera to those settings in manual mode because as soon as I turn on the flash, the camera goes to 1/200 (the flash sync speed for this camera). Any ideas on how I can achieve this to take some decent pictures of the team and individuals?

read your flash manual about High Synch Speed flash. If you can avoid it, dont put the sun behind your subject.
You cannot use ETTL off camera unless you have the new pocket wizzards
You cannot use high speed sinc off camera, you can balance your ambient and flash exposures off camera or put your flash on your camera and set it to high speed sinc and use the shutter speed you want
This was shot at F4 flash on camera 1/160 ettl
I'm going to guess that at f2.8 and 1/200, you are already over exposing the shot and so adding any flash at all is just going to do more damage..

To use fill flash properly, you first need to know the correct exposure for the shot. In this case, your bright sky in the back.. this is what you start with.. If that exposure isn't where you want the aperture (let's assume it says f-8 @ 1/125), then add a ND filter to get it where you want..

Now, we could go old school and say that we can calculate how far away your flash needs to be at full power to give a -1 stop fill... but, with today's quick look LCD, just take a couple of shots at a slightly slower shutter speed..

You do not need to sync at 1/200, it can be anything slower.. like 1/60.

And, as has been said, you could use HSS sync but it may not let you be as creative as you seem to want to be...:D
gary.. if you use a cable it can though right?
I have an off camera shoe cable and the flash is mounted on a flash bracket. I will give high speed sync a shot with my test subjects to see if that takes out the shadows. I'm guessing I meter the scene, then set the camera to those settings and turn on the flash? In bright sunlight, it may meter 1/500 or higher, will flash even do anything to shadows at these speeds?

Thanks for all your input, I am definitely a newbie trying to learn.

try it on camera first and play with it.
DOF can not only be controlled by your aperture setting, but by planning. If you need a smaller aperture the way to still get the bokeh you want can be achieved by site location.

For sports portraits and team photos I prefer to use the venue that they compete in. Most fields will give you plenty of room to create the look you want.

Fill flash is nothing more than ratios. Here is a good tutorial on ratios to create the look you want. Camera Flash: Exposure
At 1/500th of a second, the flash will have the EXCACT same effect it would at 1/200th or 1/60th as long as the iso and aperature remain the same.

The reason for this is that the flash is only a short burst of light that does not last for the entire exposure.

So in summary:

Shutter speed is not used to control flash exposure. It is used to control ambient exposure.

You want to turn the flash off, then meter for the ambient light in the background. At this point don't worry about the subject being underexposed, just get the background right.

Now you want to turn on the flash (in high speed sync mode, or alternatively buy a set of these, which will eliminate the cord and allow you to use the flash fully off camera without droppping hundreds on pocket wizards).

Simply adjust flash power and distance from subject until you are happy with your results.

Beware, Strobist style photography is VERY addicting
gary.. if you use a cable it can though right?

Not a sinc cable but it will with and ettl cable but they are only about 1 meter long

Or, you can always extend the Off Camera shoe cord as I did. It's not too hard. I just cut in the middle and added two Cat-5 receptacles. Then I can add whatever length of cable between the two that I need. Works great.

Here is a sample of a couple pictures I took using fill flash. There is still a pretty harsh shadow across the forehead on the girl on the left. However, I understand that isn't a flash problem but I should have noticed that before I snapped the picture and repositioned her.



Use the [ IMG] and the [ /IMG] instead...

Nice layout, but could you just reposition the subject to use the setting sun to your advantage? Also reposition them to get a better background instead of cars and such. A sun shade of some type wouldn't hurt either...

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