Balancing flash and ambient, part 2, people

In the previous entry I tried to explain how to balance the ambient light with flash, and it mostly revolved around birds. In this second discussion, I will elaborate on how to manage your flash effectively for portraits and kids.

As you may know, I am a great advocate of the flash, and I also understand that it scares a lot of people. Using your flash should really be as easy as using your camera, but you NEED to understand a few fundamentals, how to balance the light so the flash does not look like flash. You need to get your flash off the camera, OR, bounce it on large surfaces to make the light softer. The bigger the light source, the softer the light. Thats vital, and that why you see pro’s shooting thru umbrella’s and soft boxes.

Of course their will be times when you have no choice, but to shoot your flash directly, but be aware of the pitfalls, make sure you don’t use to much flash.

So, how do you balance the flash with the ambient? First of all, shoot in manual, as I said before, any of the semi auto modes will give you undesirable results, secondly, stay below, your max sync speed, the moment you go over that your flash has to work MUCH harder to keep up.

Then, you need to check your FEC (Flash exposure compensation), a function on your flash that controls the amount of light it dumps, Nikon flashes go from -3eV to +3eV, but actually you can go down lower by also setting the FEC value on camera, then a cumulative effect takes place, i.e., -3eV on flash + -2eV on camera is then a total of -5eV. For people I prefer to MOSTLY be -1eV and more.

You will notice, that I don’t show my camera settings, as to my mind its futile. What is more important, is adequate depth of field to yield a sharp image, and then of course enough shutter speed to not get any camera shake,don’t try and shoot 2 or more people at f1.8, or be shooting your 70-200 lens at 1/15 sec. Its a mess, so, all you really have left is ISO, and in dim light, its gonna go up. As I said in part 1, I like underexposing the background a little, and getting the flash to take up the slack.

So by way of examples,let me elaborate a little more:


Can you see the shadow, man oh man, I hate shadows. This example is typical of either to much flash, or to much under exposure. To balance the light, I had to either adjust my camera settings or ride the FEC button to get rid of the shadow.


By contrast, I nailed this one. Their is no shadow, and that should be your goal, the light is beautifully even, and I even managed to get some contrast in the portrait. Both examples above was bounce flash, with some light streaming in from camera left, so of course I bounced the light from camera left.

Kids - various

A portrait of my neighbours kid, doing the halloween thing. As you will see, you can’t really notice flash, and I achieved such by using a manual setting on camera, and of course a very low FEC, I think it was -3eV on the day. Flash was direct, but I had a Rogue flash bender over the flash, to try and soften the light a little.

Weddings - Various

Another good example of flash bounced off to my left to achieve some interesting light on my subjects, direct flash will have left me with no contrast in the subjects face, which in most photography circles is undesirable. You will notice I have detail in a reasonably bright background, and the flash in TTL mode performed flawlessly.

So, there we go, not so difficult.

Till next time, all the best and good light






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