Fill-In Flash

A method that could be used as an alternative to the use of a reflector is the use of fill-in flash.  Fill-in flash is not a strong main light source, but a low power flash. The use of a fill-in flash is that it gives additional light to a subject that is not well illuminated or the subject is in its own shadow because the light is coming mainly from the side or backlit subject.  The ideal is to use the flash to throw light on to the subject, but the light not to be too strong that it removes the shadows created by the sunlight or other studio lighting.

Fill-in flash is a technique used to brighten dark or deep shadow areas.  The dark and shadow areas are usually created when the background is significantly brighter than the subject (object or person) of the photograph, particularly with strong backlit subjects by strong bright light from sun or bright natural sky or studio lamps, the shadows created occur where they are not required.    The use of fill-in flash counter acts this effect of the object being obscured by their own shadow.

Why use a Fill-in Flash opposed to changing the lighting or position of the model

In the case of people as subjects, it is not always desirable to position a person to face the bright light, there may be something in the background that is wanted to be photographed with the person.  Sometimes if the person is turned to face the light it will cause the subjects eyes to be closed, the pupils of the eyes to appear very small or the persons face to be screwed up trying to avoid the bright light.

The bright backlit could be the desired lighting to create rim light effect around a models head and hair, putting the face in shadow.  The use of a fill-in flash illuminates the face, but keeps the rim light effect.

Examples of the use of Fill-in Flash in the studio.

The exercise described is the use of fill-in flash and the effect it has on the subject. The photographs are studio work. The camera was set up on a tripod, the studio lamp was positioned in one place to the left of the camera and the fill-in flash was set up on a stand to the right.

The camera settings remained constant throughout the photoshoot. Camera Sony ILCE-7, ISO-200, F-stop f/11, exposure 1/25 second, focal length 70mm. A series of six photographs were taken, three of a male model (figures 1-3), three of a female model (figures 4-6).

Photographs for figure 1 and figure 4, the main studio lamp is illuminating one the side of the models face, the other side is in strong shadow, no fill in flash has been used. The background has no shadow.

Photographs figure 2 and figure 5 the main studio is illuminating the side of the models face. The other side of the face is illuminated by the fill-in flash. The fill-in flash is not as strong as the main studio lamp, but the flash has generated a shadow on the backdrop for both models.

The photographs in figure 3 and figure 6, the main studio lamp the power has been increased to generate a stronger bright light on the models face. The power of the fill-in flash has not changed. The models faces in both these photographs the side of the face that is brightly illuminated, the skin tones are very pale and harsh.

Photograph for Figure 1, the lighting for male subjects although quiet dark is popular lighting for male subjects. It makes the subject look masculine, moody and intense, a look widely held as attractive for male subject. To improve the lighting and to make the male subject stand out from the dark backdrop, a lamp placed low behind the model throwing some light on to the backdrop would clearly define the outline of the model from the backdrop.

Photograph for figure 5, the lighting for a female subject with the use of a fill-in flash is considered more acceptable and attractive. It shows clearly the face of the model, and the clothes they are wearing. The darker figure 4 photograph female models can look uninterested and sulky, traits that most people do not find attractive.

The well illuminated figure 3 and 6 for both male and female subjects, although the faces and clothes are very clear, the photographs lack an atmosphere, they are clinical and cold.

Enter a caption

Figure 1 Studio light from left, no fill-in flash


Figure 2 Studio light on the left, fill-in flash on the right


Figure 3 Bright studio light on the left, fill-in flash on the right


Figure 4 Studio light from left, no fill-in flash


Figure 5 Studio light on the left, fill-in flash on the right


Figure 6 Bright studio light on the left, fill-in flash on the right

Things to be aware of using Fill-in Flash

The use of fill-in flash has to be used with care so that it does not bleach the colour out of the subject, does not overpower the existing light and shade by the existing light and flatten or eliminate 3D features.  Fill-in flash can create unwanted reflections that dazzle down the lens from reflective surfaces or cause red eye when photographing a model because the fill-in flash is close to the line of the lens, the light reflects of the back of the retina of the model.  Fill-in flash is therefore not a strong, but a low power flash and whenever possible placed to the left or right of the camera, not on the camera.


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