Oct 31, 2004

Outdoor Lighting Tricks

By Peter K. Burian
Although some outdoor photographers prefer to shoot everything by available light, an electronic flash unit is a valuable accessory. In many situations, the extra illumination creates more pleasing pictures of people, nature, or still-life subjects. The need for flash is obvious in dark conditions, such as on heavily overcast days or in a forest where foliage blocks the sun. However, I use fill flash—a gentle burst of light that fills in shadows without overpowering the ambient light—just as often on bright days.

Daylight-balanced fill flash, which reduces flash output, is especially useful in bright conditions. An internal computer evaluates the scene and produces a gentle burst of light: fill flash. Because the sun remains the primary illumination, the effect should be natural, without an obvious or artificial look. This technology works with a dedicated accessory flash or with the camera's built-in flash.


When the background is very bright, or the sun is above the subject, fill flash is essential for a technically accurate image of people. Today's high-tech cameras make this technique simple and fully automatic.

  • When a hat, tree branch, or other object casts a shadow, fill flash can be useful for brightening important details. It can also brighten dark eye sockets caused by light from above, during the hours around noon on a sunny day.
  • When you're shooting toward the sun or a bright background, flash helps to ensure an accurate exposure. Your subject should be brightly rendered and not underexposed. In fact, with daylight-balanced fill flash, the system will balance the lighting for a pleasing exposure in both areas.
  • On windy days, flowers and grasses are moving and may be rendered as blurred unless you use flash. The short burst of light can freeze the subject for a more accurate rendition.

This article offers many uncomplicated tips for making excellent outdoor images with fill flash and other lighting techniques.