2.8 Fill Flash

Let’s start by getting something out in the open up front: I don’t like flash. I know it is useful in all sorts of situations, it’s an essential tool of studio and wedding photographers. Used properly and creatively it can transform muddy and mundane to glorious.

Maybe it is my lack of learning practice that makes me shy away from using flash, but I genuinely prefer to work with the light I am presented with. As you are probably sensing by now, this was not my favourite exercise!

Here are three shots of one figure from Anthony Gormley’s “Another Place” installation at Crosby Beach near Liverpool. All were taken at 1/250th, with aperture set to f/11, f8, f22. The in-built flash of my Canon 70D was set to 1/2 power.

Gormley Contact SheetIf I had visited on a day with clear evening skies I would have used the sunlight to illuminate the statue. The flash is just too cold for me and I’d rather not use it.

As it happened, it was the contrasting colours of the churned-up Mersey and Welsh mountains that caught my eye, with no illumination required:

Gormley 1

However… The point of this course is to learn, and so appears a Speedlite 320EX to play with. I’m no longer up on Merseyside, so this rose bush in our garden will have to serve as a subject.

I’ve shot at varying flash power settings, on aperture priority mode and ISO100. Each set of the varies the aperture between f22, f16 and f9. Except for the last set, where I appear to have forgotten about f9! Power settings per set of 3 are 1/64th, 1/32nd, 1/2 and full.

Whilst I can clearly see the effect of the flash power and aperture changes, I am still not entirely convinced I’m seeing the true variation this exercise is about – perhaps the camera’s selection of shutter speed is compensating to a degree?

Probably 1/40sec at f/22 and 1/2 power is the best of the bunch for even exposure, but I suspect if I use this technique for real I’ll be looking for a slightly over exposed subject against an under exposed background for dramatic effect. One to try with my Lee Big Stopper filter.

One thing I did pick up from this exercise with the rose, done on a windy day, is the ability of the flash to freeze motion. This is definitely something I’ll use more often, particularly when the motion is generated by camera movement. I enjoyed taking these…


6 thoughts on “2.8 Fill Flash

  1. Mike, I have empathy with your comments about not liking flash and preferring to work with the available light as this was my philosophy until a couple of years ago.

    Both my Canon and Fuji cameras do not have a flash built in and I didn’t have a speedlight so I had no option until I decided to give it a go and I now think it is a great tool and it does give you another option and much more control over light. I often use it to subtly illuminate or maybe emphasise something usually with the flash off the camera and flagged to keep direct light off the subject.

    Regarding your exercise I like your pictures of the Gormley statues we know this area quite well, the last picture is great.

    I also like the rose pictures where you have used the flash to freeze the motion, you probably know this but the lower the power setting on the flash the shorter the duration of the flash (the power doesn’t actually change on a speedlight), so at a very low setting it is probably only on for around 1/10,000 sec or something similar, hence the action freezing. I used this feature to freeze water droplets in the “Smash” exercise. Apologies again if you already know this!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Jonathan, I wasn’t aware that flash power is actually a function of duration, useful to know! I will have to practise and learn more about the creative use of flash, though possibly not in my street photography , where it’s not really good for keeping a low profile! Mike.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Mike, great exercise and well done on your persistence. Love the Gormley photo – just stunning. However the roses in wind images are a revelation. I’ve got to have a go at this. Thanks for the prompt.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Flash is something I always used to avoid. I’d only ever used the auto built in flashes. Horrible! I also approached this exercise with some trepidation. The first thing I had to do was take to eBay and buy a speed light. I couldn’t believe how useful it can be! Just how creative you can be. Use it regularly now.

      As for flash and street photography being incompatible. I think Martin Parr and Dougie Wallace might disagree! Can’t say I have the character to do what Wallace does though. If you haven’t seen his work go to http://www.dougiewallace.com. There is also an interesting BBC documentary available on YouTube.



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