Fill in flash and camera reflectors

Often a photograph can be greatly enhanced by the use of a reflector or what is called fill-in camera flash or electronic fill in flash. To many people it seems odd that you would use flash in bright sunglight but it helps by reducing unattractive shadows.


Suppose it is a bright day and the sun is quite high. Imagine that the people you are going to photograph are facing the sun. this will cause them to have dark shadows under their eyes and nose. Even if they turn to one side the shadows might still remain, or if they move to a different location they may be in total shadow while the background beyond is bathed in sunshine. In either case the use of fill in flash will eliminate the shadows or balance the foreground with the background, creating a better shot.

To do this, takes an exposure meter reading of the highlight area of the picture. Let us imagine it is 1/125 second at f11. Set the camera to this exposure. If you are using an automatic flash gun set the aperture dial on it to f5.6, in other words two stop less than the highlight exposure. If you are using a manual flash gun you will have to work out a combination of aperture and speed from the guide numbers of your flash gun to give you the appropriate exposure. The guide number tells you how strong a flash gun’s power is and will alter depending on the ISO you are using. For example at ISO 200, it will give a higher guide number than during ISO 64.

From the flash gun manufacturer’s instructions you can work out the correct aperture to use. Roughly speaking, this is calculated by dividing the guide number by the flash to subject distance. Having done this you are now ready to take your shot. The important point to remember is always to underexpose the flash. If you do not do this then the light from the flash will look too harsh and burn out all the shadow detail.

With a camera reflector or photographic reflector, on the other hand, you can see the effect immediately. You can buy custom made reflectors in a variety of sizes and effects. These range from white and silver through to bronze and gold. Of course you might find yourself in a situation where you do not have a reflector and therefore will have to improvise. A piece of white card, a white sheet or a piece of aluminum foil will do. Let us imagine that the sun is behind your subject. If you hold the reflector so that the sun shines directly onto it you can bounce this light back to your subject. By changing your position and the angle of the reflector you can redirect the light to exactly where you need it. A silver reflector will give a harsher light than a white one, and a gold one will give a very warm effect. Many photographers prefer using a reflector to fill in flash as they feel it gives a more natural light.

The use of a reflector or fill in flash is not just restricted to photographing people. Perhaps you are going to photograph a table outdoors laid for lunch. The table is in the shade but, if you expose for it, then the house in the background, for example, will be overexposed. By using the flash to illuminate the table the two different exposures can be bought into line with one another. Whichever method you decide to use it is of course best to practice before you take some important photographs.

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