How to take great portraits outdoors using flash
Flash is a great help when the light isn’t ideal. If you’re out later in the evening or in very dull weather, you might find that you have no choice but to use flash. Quite simply, it provides some extra light when you need it.
However, flash is not just useful when it is dark. There are times when you can benefit from using flash on a bright sunny day. For example, if you try to take a picture of someone when they have a bright background behind them without using flash you will tend to find that either the background goes too bright or the person comes out too dark. By using flash for this type of portrait, you can balance the overall lighting and keep both the background and the person looking right.
Most cameras have their own built-in flash. So, you don’t have to spend a lot of money on extra lights if you don’t want to or need to. Built-in flashes do tend to be a bit limited in the amount of power they can put out and they can also give quite harsh results sometimes. There isn’t much you can do if your camera’s built-in flash doesn’t have enough power. But, you can soften the flash slightly if you are finding it is a bit too bright for your needs. If your camera allows you to, you can turn down the flash power. That still may not be enough to get the effect you are after. So, one tip to try (if you don’t mind looking a little silly…!) is put a tissue or thin piece of paper in front of the flash to diffuse the light. This softens the flash so you don’t get quite so strong a contrast.
If you are after a more natural look or want to be able to make your portraits look more professional when using flash then you really need to have a flashgun/speedlight or studio light that you can use off-camera. You can get far more power and also various light modifiers that soften the light or enable you to control its spread, for example. This is how I do a lot of my portraits. Saying that, I do still use my speedlight (flashgun) mounted on my camera sometimes for outdoor portraits. If nothing else, I like to use the flash to add that little sparkle in the person’s eye if the natural light isn’t making that happen.
So, don’t just think of flash as something to use when the light is too low. Try it out on a sunny day! See if you can fill in some of the shadows and balance your images better by adding a little “fill flash”. This simple idea can really help to transform your outdoor portrait photography.
© Joe Lenton, October 2014