Lighting Makes The Difference: Fill In The Light

Have you ever had one of those days where nothing seems to go right? I’m in the middle of one right now, as I photograph a beautiful model in the midday Colorado sun. I can’t find a decent image in this photo shoot. It’s not my subject’s fault—she looks like an SI swimsuit model. I put full blame on the overhead sun and cloudless sky. Every ounce of light is brutally harsh. Disaster.

“Can you move in the shade under that tree?” I ask her. “Try to get out of the sun.”

Okay, I’m feeling a little better with this scene. She actually can open her eyes now, and she isn’t sweating profusely under the blazing sun. But tiny shafts of sun are penetrating the tree’s shade, creating disco-laser light spots on her face. Every time the tree sways in the breeze, the laser beams dance across her face and eyes. I’m guessing she feels like she’s at an eye exam right now with her pupils dilated. Not good. Embarrassing.

“How about stepping even farther back under the tree?” I ask. “The shade is really good there.”

She happily obliges and moves into deep shade with no hint of direct sun. Eliminating the laser light show causes my blood pressure to slowly drop to normal. This portrait looks really good, just a little flat since no light is hitting the model. I like the mountains behind her; I just need to bring a little color to her skin and clothes. I’m actually starting to have fun. I know exactly what to do to make this shot pop: Add fill-flash.

Fill-flash is a very effective way of bringing an image to life. Fill-flash blends light from your flash with the available light. The ratio of flash to daylight is generally pretty close in exposure. The idea is not to darken the background, but instead eliminate spotty shadows and add a touch of light to your subject. Used subtly, many viewers won’t even know flash is used in the image. The trick is deciding what light source to use for the fill light and how bright this fill light will be. The next time you want to take your image a notch above the rest, try one of these fill-flash techniques.

Simple Reflectors

Tried and true, reflectors are inexpensive and low tech, and do a great job of adding fill light to a scene. While reflectors aren’t a flash, they still produce fill-flash effects in an image. I love reflectors because of their simplicity. They produce a constant light source, so what you see is what you get. Metering is simple; just take a shot with the reflector in position, bouncing light on your subject, and adjust your exposure based on your test shot.

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