Using Fill Flash for Outdoor Portraits

Here’s a simple lighting tip to vastly improve your outdoor portraits and candid photos.

Use your flash.

I know, I know… you’re probably thinking that it’s already nice and bright outside so why would you need to use a flash?    This is why…

IMG_3111 edited

I’ve posed Eric with his back directly to the sun to eliminate any harsh light being cast on his face and to also create a nice hair light accent. The ambient exposure (1/125 sec @ f/5.6  ISO 100) is accurate since I have nice detail in the background, however, this places Eric’s facial features in deep shadow and makes his eyes look lifeless. By adding some flash I can remedy that…

IMG_3112 edited

Now the exposure is balanced with the ambient background light unchanged and controlled by the camera’s settings, while the main lighting on Eric is provided by the flash.  Look closely and you’ll see that he also has some nice catchlights in his eyes.

It’s important to remember that when shooting with Speedlights you are controlling two separate light sources and two distinct exposures, ambient and flash. The ambient light is controlled with the camera’s exposure settings, but the flash is separate and controlled by adjusting it’s output.

Eric B&A
With and without fill flash. Both exposures are 1/125 sec @ f/5.6 ISO 100.

Let’s look at a more challenging example…

1/125 sec @ f/5.6 ISO 100

My first priority was to achieve an accurate and appealing ambient exposure. While the ambient exposure is technically correct in this first image, the glare is washing out the rich color of the red barn rendering the background dull and lifeless.

1/60 sec @f/5.6 ISO 100 – with polarizing filter

By adding a polarizing filter, I can eliminate the glare which then reveals the rich underlying colors vastly improving the background.  But Konrad is still very underexposed.
Time to add some flash…

IMG_9877 edited
1/60 sec @ f/5.6 ISO 100 – with polarizer filter and flash (-2/3 stops)

To balance the flash with the ambient light, I dialed the flash down a bit by -2/3 stops. Full power was too bright and the adjustment only affected the flash output, not the original camera exposure for the ambient background light.  Like I mentioned above, you are controlling two separate light sources and two distinct exposures, ambient and flash. Ambient is controlled by the camera’s exposure settings, flash is controlled by adjusting the power setting (Full to 1/128 power) or Flash Exposure Compensation (FEC)

Konrad 3up

Here’s the progression for Konrad’s portrait. These are the original captures, I applied additional adjustments and retouching later in post processing.

Using flash outdoors is quite simple and will significantly improve your photos.  Just follow these three simple steps for quick and simple outdoor portraits.
1) Pose subject with back to the sun.
2) Determine ambient exposure for background
3) Use fill flash for subject and adjust to balance with ambient light.

Jeff Greene Digital Imaging Workshops
If you would like to learn more about Speedlite flash photography techniques, I teach a series of classes and workshops offering beginner to advanced levels of Speedlite flash techniques.

Upcoming Classes
Canon Speedlite 101
August 15th, 2015
Kenmore Camera

Speedlight Intensive
August 29th, 2015
Kenmore Camera


New Years Photo Resolutions 2015

Traditional Lion Dancers / Bellevue Square, WA
Leica M-P [Type 240] w/ 50mm f/2 APO Summicron ASPH
1/180 sec @ f/4.8 ISO 1250

Gung hay fat choy!

I’m waaay behind with my writing this year so I thought I would post this article to coincide with the Chinese Lunar New Year. That being said, along with all of the New Year Resolutions that many of you are making (and likely breaking by now…), I thought I would add a list of resolutions that you might actually enjoy. Here are my Top 10 Photo Resolutions for 2015

1) Start a 365 Project

01 Blipfoto

This is a challenging project where most photographers start off strong capturing a daily photo, but then fade after about four or five weeks. It’s demanding and requires diligence, but it also prepares you to view the world with a heightened sense of awareness. You’ll become more attuned to your surroundings always on the lookout for a worthy photo to post.  One of the best places to post your project is on Blipfoto which is designed specifically to accept one photo per calendar date. It’s free and the community is very supportive and complimentary towards its members.

2) Print Some Enlargements

The digital age with all its benefits and advances has a major drawback when it comes to viewing images. Most photographers are storing their images on their computers (more on that in #4 below) rarely to be seen unless it’s posted online somewhere. One of the best ways to preserve your images and share them with your friends is to print some enlargements and frame them. When you run out of wall space you can then…

3) Make A Photo Book

03 Photobooks

There are a lot of options for producing a slick photo book, ranging from very basic to custom masterpieces, that’s only limited by your imagination.  All of the major self publishers (I like Blurb) offer a myriad of templates and designs that suit most occasions and themes. You can make a book for vacations, birthdays, and holidays then, at the end of the year, create a retrospective annual of your family’s activities.  To manage all that you’ll need to…

4) Get Organized and Back Up Your Images


This resolution may not be fun, but the time and effort invested in organizing your photos will pay off in the long run.  I organize my family images in an annual folder (Family Photos 2015) with numbered monthly sub-folders (01 January 2015, 02 February 2015…).  This narrows the search based on the date of the event and saves a lot of time otherwise spent clicking and opening folders and files.

This is also the perfect opportunity to purchase a couple of external hard drives and archive your images on a daily basis.  If there is one true adage in the digital age, it’s this,

“It’s not a question of “if” your computers’ hard drive will fail, but “when”.

Save yourself a lot of heartache, dirty looks from the family, and endless self-loathing by making the effort to back-up and archive your files. Check out my Back Up Your Memories article for more detailed information regarding storage and archiving solutions.

5) Share, Post, and Publish

The internet is a great way to share your images with family and friends and there are lots of online resources to facilitate the publishing of your photos. Facebook, Flickr, Twitter are the “Big 3″ and they all offer options for sharing, posting, and adding comments. It’s a great way to share news of family events and to get feedback on your latest images.

A cautionary note: Facebook and other online services implement strict Terms of Service (TOS) that explicitly give them all rights to use your photos as they deem fit. It’s mostly a protective legal measure but you need to be aware of it …

6) Take Your Camera Everywhere

Just do it… You can’t take great images without a decent camera, and a cell phone doesn’t quite cut it.  It’s certainly better than nothing, but a real camera will provide more creative options that will produce higher quality files and allow you more control over shutter speed, aperture, and ISO.

7)  Embark on a Photo Safari

07 Safari

One day, one week, one month… it doesn’t matter. Plan a trip somewhere with the sole purpose of photographing the essence of that location. Treat the excursion as a photo assignment where you must deliver images to an editor that provides a variety of different angles, views, and subject matter from that locale. Be sure to include some people shots and to change lenses and locations often. This mindset will help you capture many different perspectives of the area and prevents you from getting into a rut and returning home with 317 photos of the same statue…

8) Enter A Photo Contest

Photo contests are a fun way to keep your creative juices flowing and maintain a competitive edge. The odds are stacked against you, and the judge’s choices often defy all logic, but it’s still a thrill to enter. Start out with contests that are free, but consider reputable fee-based contests that offer more prestige and recognition. Always be aware of what the rules require, and what rights the sponsoring organization claims when you submit your photo (usually Rule #6).   Most newspapers also sponsor a “your best shot” type of contest that is easy to enter. The Seattle Times offers the Reader’s Lens contest that can be entered online here.
TIP: Don’t even think of submitting a sunset shot to a photo contest. Trust me, I’ve judged a lot of contests and most sunset shots go straight into the trash…

9) Try a New Photo Technique


Panoramas, black & white, infrared, pinhole, 3D… There is a wide selection of different techniques and effects that you can experiment with to keep the creative juices flowing. If you prefer to do something unique and different with pictures you already have on file, then I recommend purchasing The Photojojo Book.  It contains treasure trove of creative DIY type photo projects that will keep you busy on those days when it’s just too bleak to go outside and shoot.

10) Take a Class or Workshop

07 Sunset Photogs

The best way to learn or improve any skill is in a hands-on environment at the feet of a Master. You can watch all the YouTube videos you want, but attending a workshop is the most efficient way to hone your skills.  I offer a series of classes each month on a wide variety of topics ranging from Basic Photography to Advanced Speedlite seminars.  I also lead several “destination” workshops each year in various locales around the US. Check out the Workshops section my website ( for the latest updates.


There’s your top 10 photography resolutions for 2015.  I look forward to doing many of these items myself and hope you do too.  Happy New Year!

-Jeff Greene

My 2008 Self Portrait Project