Capturing the perfect portrait is a delicate art form that requires a keen eye for detail and a mastery of lighting techniques. When it comes to outdoor portrait photography, one of the biggest challenges is ensuring that your subject is well-lit, even in less-than-ideal lighting conditions.
That’s where on-camera flash comes in. While many photographers shy away from using flash outdoors, it can be an incredibly powerful tool for achieving stunning results. With the right approach, on-camera flash can help you create beautifully lit portraits that capture the essence of your subject.
In this article, I will explore the benefits of using on-camera flash for outdoor portraits and share some tips and tricks to help you get the most out of this powerful technique.
Understanding the challenges of outdoor portrait photography
Outdoor portrait photography presents a unique challenge for photographers. Unlike studio photography, where the lighting can be carefully controlled, outdoor lighting conditions can be unpredictable and constantly changing. Sunlight can be harsh and create unflattering shadows and highlights on your subject’s face. If you don’t have great editing software, I highly recommend not shooting outside the “golden hour.”
If you’re shooting during the middle of the day, the sunlight may be too bright, making it difficult to get a good exposure without overexposing the background. In order to overcome these challenges, you need to have a good understanding of lighting and how to control it.
One of the most effective ways to control lighting for outdoor portraits is to use on-camera flash. By using flash, you can fill in shadows and create a more even lighting on your subject’s face. This can help to create a more flattering portrait and ensure that your subject looks their best. However, using flash requires a bit of skill and technique, which we’ll explore in more detail later in this article.
Advantages of using on-camera flash
Using on-camera flash for outdoor portraits offers a number of advantages over other lighting techniques. It allows you to fill in shadows and create a more even lighting on your subject’s face. This can be especially important when shooting in bright sunlight, where the harsh lighting can create deep shadows on your subject’s face.
Another advantage of using on-camera flash is that it allows you to shoot in low light conditions. If you’re shooting during the early morning or late evening, the light may be too low to get a good exposure without using flash. By using flash, you can ensure that your subject is well-lit, even in low light conditions.
Finally, using on-camera flash allows you to create a more dramatic look to your portraits. By adjusting the power of the flash and the position of the light, you can create a more dynamic and interesting portrait that captures the essence of your subject.
Types of on-camera flash
There are two main types of on-camera flash: built-in flash and external flash. Built-in flash is the flash that is built into your camera body and is typically located on the top of the camera. This type of flash is convenient because it’s always available and doesn’t require any additional equipment. However, built-in flash has a number of limitations, including limited power and range, and it can create harsh lighting that is unflattering to your subject.
External flash, on the other hand, is a separate flash unit that attaches to your camera’s hot shoe. External flash units are more powerful than built-in flash and offer a wider range of features and settings. They also allow you to position the flash off-camera, which can create more interesting and dynamic lighting effects.
I highly recommend using external flash devices. The power difference is huge. Built in flashes are usually found on lower end cameras and look more like an amateur. I currently use the Nikon SB-5000. It has really good power, long battery life and produces great results.
How to choose the right flash for outdoor portraits
When choosing an on-camera flash for outdoor portraits, there are a few key factors to consider. First and foremost, you want to choose a flash that is powerful enough to provide enough light for your subject. A flash with a high guide number (GN) will be more powerful than one with a low GN.
You also want to consider the range of the flash. If you’re shooting in a large open space, you’ll need a flash with a longer range than if you’re shooting in a small enclosed area. You’ll also want to consider the flash’s recycling time, or how quickly it can recharge between shots. A faster recycling time will allow you to take more shots in quick succession without having to wait for the flash to recharge.
Also consider the flash’s features and settings. Look for a flash with adjustable power settings, which will allow you to control the intensity of the light. Additionally, look for a flash with a swivel head, which will allow you to adjust the angle of the light and create more interesting lighting effects.
Tips for using on-camera flash for outdoor portraits
Now that you’ve chosen the right flash for your outdoor portraits, it’s time to start using it. Here are some tips to help you get the most out of your on-camera flash:
- Use a diffuser: A diffuser is a piece of material that attaches to the front of your flash and helps to spread the light more evenly. This can help to create a softer, more flattering light on your subject’s face. You can make your own, or buy one specific to your flash model.
- Use TTL mode: TTL (Through The Lens) mode is a setting that allows your camera to automatically adjust the power of the flash based on the ambient light. This can help to ensure that your subject is well-lit, even in changing lighting conditions.
- Use high-speed sync: High-speed sync is a setting that allows you to use flash at shutter speeds higher than your camera’s sync speed. This can be useful when shooting in bright sunlight, as it allows you to use a faster shutter speed to create a more natural-looking background, while still using flash to light your subject.
- Use bounce flash: Bounce flash is a technique where you point your flash at a nearby surface, such as a wall or ceiling, and bounce the light off of it. This can create a softer, more diffused light that is more flattering to your subject.
- Use fill flash: Fill flash is a technique where you use a low power flash to fill in shadows on your subject’s face. This can be useful when shooting in bright sunlight, where the harsh lighting can create deep shadows on your subject’s face.
Techniques for balancing ambient light and flash
When using on-camera flash for outdoor portraits, it’s important to balance the light from the flash with the ambient light. If the flash is too bright, it can create a harsh, unflattering light on your subject’s face. If the flash is too dim, it won’t have enough of an impact on the overall lighting of the scene.
One technique for balancing the light is to use a technique called “dragging the shutter.” This involves using a slower shutter speed to allow more of the ambient light to enter the camera, while still using flash to light your subject. This can help to create a more natural-looking portrait that balances the flash and ambient light.
Another technique is to use a flash with adjustable power settings. By adjusting the power of the flash, you can control the intensity of the light and ensure that it’s balanced with the ambient light.
Common mistakes to avoid when using on-camera flash
While on-camera flash can be a powerful tool for outdoor portrait photography, there are a few common mistakes that photographers make when using it. Here are some mistakes to avoid:
- Using too much flash: If the flash is too bright, it can create a harsh, unflattering light on your subject’s face. Use a diffuser or adjust the power of the flash to create a softer, more even light.
- Using the wrong flash: Make sure you choose a flash that is powerful enough for your needs, and that has the features and settings you need to create the lighting effects you want.
- Not considering the background: When using flash, it’s important to consider the background as well as your subject. Make sure the flash doesn’t overpower the background, and that the overall composition of the photo is well-balanced.
- Not practicing: Using on-camera flash requires a bit of skill and technique. Practice using your flash in different lighting conditions and experiment with different settings to find what works best for you.
Using on-camera flash for outdoor portraits can be a powerful tool for creating stunning and dynamic portraits. By understanding the challenges of outdoor portrait photography, choosing the right flash, and using the right techniques, you can create beautifully lit portraits that capture the essence of your subject. Whether you’re a seasoned pro or just starting out, don’t be afraid to experiment with on-camera flash and discover the power it can bring to your outdoor portrait photography.