When it comes to outdoor portrait photography, one challenge photographers often encounter is dealing with high-contrast light. High-contrast light can make it difficult to capture both your subject and the background without sacrificing the detail in either. The solution is a technique known as using a fill flash.

What is Fill Flash?

Fill Flash is a technique used with daylight photography to cancel out harsh shadows or illuminate areas that are backlit, thus bringing balance to an image’s lighting. With the aid of an external flash unit, or even your camera’s built-in flash, you can ‘fill’ in shadows and reduce the contrast difference between your subject and the background. This can provide a more harmonious, evenly lit image.

Why Use Fill Flash?

The main reason to use fill flash is to combat harsh daylight. Midday sun can create deep, dark shadows around your subject’s eyes, under their chin, and along any other areas the light doesn’t directly reach. By using fill flash, you can soften these shadows and ensure your subject is evenly lit, regardless of the prevailing natural light conditions.

Getting Started with Fill Flash

Even if you’ve never worked with flash before, integrating it into your outdoor portraits can be relatively simple.

  1. Taking Control of Your Flash: Start by putting your camera in manual mode. This allows you to control your shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. Next, set your flash into manual as well. Full manual control lets you alter the amount of light coming from your flash depending on the scene’s lighting conditions and your creative vision.
  2. Choosing Your Flash Power: When it comes to setting your flash power for fill, you rarely need to go above 1/8 power. Remember, you’re looking to fill in shadows, not overpower the natural light.
  3. Balance with Ambient Light: You’ll want to consider your ambient light – which is the natural lighting in your scene. To keep the ambient light visible in your shot while using fill flash, you may need to lower your shutter speed, use a wider aperture, or increase your ISO.

Tips for Success

Mastering fill flash requires practice, experimentation, and a few tried-and-true tips.

Tips to Master Fill Flash Technique

Using fill flash effectively requires a lot of practice and a deep understanding of how light behaves. Here are some tips that could help you master this technique:

  • Experiment with Angles: The angle of your flash can dramatically affect the image. Start by aiming your flash directly at your subject, and then experiment with different angles to see how the light changes.
  • Use a Flash Diffuser: A diffuser softens the light from the flash, spreading it out more evenly and reducing harsh shadows. This can help to create a more natural-looking light while using the fill flash technique.
  • Understand the Inverse Square Law: This is a fundamental concept in photography which states that the intensity of light is inversely proportional to the square of the distance from the source. Understanding this can aid you vastly in controlling the fall off of your flash and achieving a balanced exposure.

Fill flash, while being a potent tool, is just one of the many techniques that can aid in creating a compelling photograph. Learning other techniques, like macro photography, can expose you to different styles, help you innovate, and build a diverse photography portfolio.


Using fill flash properly can significantly improve your outdoor portraits, providing balance between your subject and the background to produce professional-quality images. However, like any photography technique, mastering fill flash takes time and practice. Remember to experiment and play around with the tips provided, and most importantly, have fun capturing beautiful moments.

In the end, photography is all about communicating through visuals. How you balance light, compose your shot, and manipulate technical elements can completely change the story a photograph tells. Fill flash is one valuable technique that can help you better narrate your story.

Do you have any tips for using fill flash? Which outdoor photography challenge do you want us to tackle next? Let us know in the comments below. Happy shooting!