Using a Flash with your Outdoor Photography

Don't be afraid to use your flash outdoors. As a commercial photographer I am always thinking about how I can light my subject in my own style of photography. That need doesn't stop when my commercial photo assignment ends. This process continues with all my work: macros, landscapes, underwater and even just simple snapshots of my kids. 

With the sun facing me, I added an off-camera Fill Flash to add a little texture and detail to the trees.

As I stated in a previous blog post, photography is about the study of light and how that light interacts with your subject.  Lighting adds drama, style, emotion and shape to your subject. Lighting is the thing that truly separates one photographer’s style from another.

When I go for a hike, I always bring a flash with me because I want to sculpt the photograph that I see in my mind. Sometimes the ambient light works for my subject and sometimes it does not tell the story I want to express. 

For a painter, every motion of the brush is their decision. Think of the flash as a photographer’s paint brush. It gives you the creative control so you can make the photograph you see in your mind’s eye.

Using a flash does not mean you have to use huge elaborate flash systems attached to a big DSLR.  Sometimes all you need is just a “puff of light” from your Point & Shoot or Compact Camera. Just a little bit of light can make all the difference between taking a snapshot or making a photograph. “Snapshots you take, photographs you make.”

On any camera that has a flash is “daylight balanced’, meaning it is the colour temperature of bright sunlight.  When you use a flash in your photograph, it doesn't just add light to your subject it actually bring back all the colours tone on your subject.

 Just a "puff of light" to add color to the face and clothes.

Just a "puff of light" to add color to the face and clothes.

When photographing something outside in the shade, you are losing the saturated warm tones of the reds, yellows, orange tones in the photograph.  It Is not that you won't have the warm tones, but they will be muted in colour. By turning on a flash when you are outdoors and letting your subject be partially lit by the flash, you can add those warm tones back into your photograph. 

The common term for this is called “Fill Flash”. Essentially, you are combining two photos in one picture,  the background that is lit by the ambient light and the foreground (subject) that is partially lit with the flash.

The next time you are at a family gathering, or out for a hike and you have a camera that has a flash; think about turning on the flash and see what happens. Try the same photo with the flash on and with the flash off, you might be amazed by the results you see.

The big trick to using a Fill Flash is controlling the intensity or direction of the flash and trying your best to blend flash lighting with the already existing natural light in the photo.  The goal is to make make the flash exposure look natural and not obviously lit with a flash. 

Currently my favourite “carry all” camera is my Sony RX100 II.  It is small enough to be always with me,  1” sensor (good image quality), Wi-Fi for instant photo sharing and of course if has a great pop-up flash and even a hot-shoe if I want to add a larger flash too the camera.

Note; if you have a small pop-up flash or a compact camera with a flash you probably need to get a little closer to your intended subject when using the flash outdoors.  The smaller flashes don't have as much power as the large cousins that attach to the top of your camera by the Hot-shoe.

 A simple pop-up Fill Flash can brighten the shadows when the sun is behind your subject.

A simple pop-up Fill Flash can brighten the shadows when the sun is behind your subject.

This blog discusses the value of using a flash outdoors or in places you would not normally think too use a flash. In later blogs posts I'll be discussing how to operate your flash on and off the camera and how you can create your style and the photograph you see in your minds eye.

Remember, if you already own any digital camera with a flash it does not cost anything to practice taking digital photos, pixels are free. So why not try seeing what happens when you use your flash the next time you are outdoors exploring with your camera.

Cheers & keep making photos.  :)
Mike