Portraits on location: don’t forget your pop up flash for fill lighting!

With the sudden onset of a minor heatwave over the past week, we headed off, at the weekend, for a family outing to nearby Belton House, a lovely National Trust property near Grantham. As usual I grabbed a camera before I left the house. Trying to ensure domestic harmony I elected to leave my bulky camera at home along with it’s accompanying lenses…problem being once I grab my D3 I then can never decide what lenses to bring, and then do I pack a flashgun, or maybe two, then what about flash stands and light modifiers? Before long I need a large trolley or a pack mule to carry all my gear, not a great choice for a relaxing family day out! So instead I took my D300 and my 50mm f1.8 lens AKA “Nifty Fifty”. Expecting family photos to be the order of the day I figured this would be a good, and light weight, choice.

Saturday was a bright sunny day with intermittent cloud so for two reasons we headed for the shade:

1. So as not to frazzle our young daughter. OK so we could have spent ten minutes smothering her in sun block – but she’s easily upset at the best of times.

2. To escape from the awful direct light of the sun. You know that kind of light that causes everyone to squint and leads to horrible harsh shadows.

So then I’m left with the need to pop a bit of life back into the photos by adding in some fill light. If I had a pet pack mule then I’d have a few choices, either using a reflector or off camera flash. As I’d left all that at home (the gear not the pack mule) I resorted to my camera’s pop up flash. Simple to use – on a D300 you just press the small button to the left (as you hold the camera) of the flash and it will pop up. You can set your exposure for ambient light using any of the modes available. I prefer to use manual, dialling the exposure in so that the background is nicely exposed – note that this is your choice – for example a technique commonly used is to darken the background by deliberately underexposing. One thing to remember is to make sure the shutter speed is below the sync speed of the camera (in my case 1/250 s) – in fact Nikon seem to have idiot proofed my D300 as it wouldn’t let me set a higher shutter speed when the pop up flash was up. Usually you want to dial down the amount of fill flash used – in this case I dialled it down by 1  – 1.7 stops, to get a look I was happy with. The fill flash helps to take down any excess shadows and gives extra sparkle to the eyes. One disadvantage of a pop-up flash for fill lighting is that it gives very poor catchlights in the eyes – just a small central pin of light – so I’ve cloned these out when processing the images.

Anyway – all that aside – we had a great picnic – and Jessica REALLY loved her blueberry puree!

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gillian

they are lovely steve

These are lovely Steve, as ever smashing work. You really must be building up an amazing collection of family photos.

Great tips, I couldn’t agree more with the advice. I too could also do with some sort of fold away pack horse.

Steve Dunham

Thanks to both of you! I think if we could invent a fold away pack animal that didn’t eat much we’d be on to a winner!