Sunday's Speedlite Session - Control Subject and Background Brightness Independently

Compare these two pictures of a monkey that I took in Gibraltar. One is an available light shot and the other is a daylight fill-in flash shot – the one that clearly shows the monkey’s face.

Here’s one technique for reaching that goal when you are photographing animals (at relatively close distances) and people outdoors.

First, you’ll need a flash with variable flash output control, that is, +/- exposure control – or a camera that lets you control the flash output from within the camera. Mount the flash on your camera (better yet on a bracket or off camera), but don’t turn it on yet.

Set your camera to the Manual exposure mode.

In the Manual mode, set the exposure for the existing lighting conditions, a.k.a. ambient light.

Turn on your flash and make an exposure with the flash set at – 1 1/3. If the picture on the camera’s LCD monitor looks too much like a flash shot, reduce the flash output to – 1 1/2. If it’s still too “flashy,” continue to reduce the flash until you are pleased with the results.

This techniques works because even in the Manual mode, the flash operates in the TTL (through the lens) automatic flash metering mode.

Some digital SLRs and flash units help the flash metering system determine the main subject’s distance, while others let you lock the flash exposure on the subject, while still others measure the ambient light and take that into consideration – helping you to get a great outdoor flash shot automatically.

Still, I suggest you master this manual technique if you are serious about your photography. When you do, you can control the brightness of the subject independently (with the flash output control) from the background (with the shutter speed).

Hey! They don't call me Rick "Speedlite" Sammon for nothing! I never leave home without one!