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Using Flash In The Sun

Fill Flash

Most people never think to turn on their flash when taking pictures in the bright sun. (Most cameras don’t either if you let them do all the thinking!)

Since many of you in the U.S. are heading out to Independence Day celebrations this weekend, and I’m sure at least some of you will be taking photos of your friends and family in the bright outdoors, this Friday Photo Tip is for you.  

To get a great picture, you don’t have to always run for the shade, particularly if there is none.  You just have to know where to put the sun in relation to your subject and remember to turn your flash on. 

Turning your flash on may seem counter intuitive on a sunny day, but it’s necessary to fill in dark shadows caused by the bright sun.  That’s why it’s called Fill Flash, because it only fills in the dark parts of your image close enough to be lit by your flash.

Tips for setting up your shot: 

  • Make sure the sun is behind your subject.  (This will help them not to have that painful squinty look.)
  •  Turn on your flash.  Most point and shoot cameras should have the option to force the flash in either Auto or Program mode.  (Let the camera make the rest of the settings automatically.  Try and have your ISO at the lowest setting if in Program mode.) 
  • Make sure you are not too far away from your subject.  (In the big, bright sunlight your little flash might only reach a few feet, so take some test shots to determine a working distance.)

Above is our very lovely model Margaret posing with the sun above and behind her while I used a Fill Flash to light her.  Below are examples of what typically happens without a flash:  people either look silhouetted because the sun is behind them or squinty because the sun is in their eyes. 

If you find yourself shooting in dappled or uneven light (like under a tree) or at high noon when the sun is directly above you (and your friends look like raccoons), Fill Flash will soften out the contrast and open up the shadows so they look more natural.

 As always, knowing and testing your camera produces the best results, so hopefully you’ll get to practice some of these methods at your next sunny outing.

 **For those who plan on photographing fireworks this weekend, don’t forget to brush up on how to capture those bursts.

Happy Fourth!

It's too dark, I can't see!

You're blinding me!


  • Marci McKinnon - July 3, 2010 - 2:24 pm

    Renata, I never knew using a flash in sunlight made a difference. Thanks for the info. 🙂

  • Renata - July 3, 2010 - 11:28 pm

    Absolutely! Let me know how it goes when you try it.

  • Jen - July 26, 2010 - 5:08 pm

    That first shot is a really lovely picture of Margaret. (I’ve got lots like the third shot. Heh.) Thanks for the helpful tip! I’m definitely going to remember this one.

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