“Stop! Why are you using flash in the middle of the day!?” 4 things to remember when balancing flash with natural light.

I recently attended a wedding (where I wasn’t the photographer) but I had my camera with me. I was obeying the golden rule of “photographer at a wedding you’re not photographing” which is: one body, one lens, one flash. I had my a77, my Sony 50mm f/1.8 and my Yongnuo YN-560 III.

OK, I confess, I also had the 35mm f/1.8, but I used that at the ceremony only. 🙂

The wedding was a midday affair, and as was the norm, the sun was high, bright and casting nasty shadows. As every photographer knows, midday sun does not a pretty portrait make. My wife and I were having some drinks and canapés with some friends, and I was keeping an eye on the bride and groom who had arrived and were mingling with family. They came over and I wanted to take some pictures, so I got my flash out. One of my friends gave me the weirdest look in the world and said “What are you using flash for? There’s more than enough light!”

That was enough to inspire me to write a blog post about my answer, which was: the overhead sun casts nasty shadows over the eyes, rendering them dark.

When we look at a portrait, we are immediately drawn to the eyes. If they look dark and dull, rather than colourful and sparkly, we are usually disappointed and left questioning. I took the portrait below with flash in the middle of the day:

Flash Portrait

I was pleased with the result, as there are no shadows cast under the eyes but the portrait looks balanced and shot without flash.

Here are four things to remember when balancing flash with natural light:

1. You have to stay within your cameras sync speed. Sync speed is the fastest shutter speed that your camera can use flash with. Below this speed you get an ugly grey or black bar where the shutter curtain has closed before the sensor has been exposed to all the light. So I was taking most of my pictures at 1/200s, which is my camera’s sync speed. (You can get around this if your camera and flash will do high sync speed flash.

2. I wanted to render the background more out of focus than it appears in this shot, but because of rule one, I had to shoot at f/5. Any lower than that and my background was blowing out because I had to stay in the sync speed. I could have resolved this with a neutral density filter, but I didn’t have one with me. At least as the lens is stopped down it’s in a sharper aperture range, so every cloud and all that.

3. Free catchlights! Catchlights are little specular highlights in the eyes caused by reflecting the flash, and even though they are quite small in this case, they still add interest and a little sparkle to the eye.

4. Remember to change the flash power if you’re using manual flash when you change the distance between you and you’re subject. I was using a 50mm prime lens, so for a portrait of two people, I was closer than I was for a portrait of four. With that distance, your flash is less powerful, so you’ll need to add another stop of flash power for bigger groups.

Hope you found these useful, if you did  I ask you to like and share on social media so others may enjoy.

2 thoughts on ““Stop! Why are you using flash in the middle of the day!?” 4 things to remember when balancing flash with natural light.

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