Using a Strobe on a Sunny Day

Did you know that the “golden hour,” or the time when most photographers prefer to shoot outdoors (right after sunrise and right before sunset) is actually only about 15-30 minutes. Why do they call it an hour then? Well, anyway, that’s not what we are talking about today. Today we are talking about using your camera’s flash outside, under the bright sun. Now, you just might be thinking, “Why would I need a flash if the sun is out and it is bright? Isn’t it bright enough to take a photo?” Well, yes, it is, but instead of a mediocre photo, wouldn’t you prefer a great photo? I trust your answer will be “yes,” so let’s begin the discussion. But first, note that this isn’t an instructional blog posting. Rather, it is just to let you know that you can better your photos by using a flash under a bright sky.

So, what happens when you take a photo outside under the sun? Lots of available lighting, for one. However, when you (or your camera) gauge the available lighting, you end up with one of two situations: either a subject that is well-lit, but the rest of the photo is “blown out” (over-exposed), or the background is metered well and the subject is under-exposed. A while back I talked about how shooting in RAW format could help alleviate for of the under- and over-exposures, but let’s just pretend we aren’t shooting in RAW format.

In our case here, we are using the fill flash. That is, using just enough flash to lighten the subject. Take a look at the following photos. The first one is metered for me and my daughter in the foreground. The clouds, sky, and lava field are lit, but they lack a little something.


Now take a look at a photo taken immediately after the above one, only a fill flash was used this time.


Still not perfect (the flash seems to have been blocked at the bottom of the photo – perhaps by a lens hood or the lens itself), but a little better than the first photo. There seems to be more depth to the photo here; more texture to it all. It’s the one that I prefer.

Here’s the simple way to do this (with DSLRs and some point-and-shoots): meter the photo for the brightness of the background, and then turn your flash on (and, if available as an option, choose “fill flash”). There are too many types of cameras and camera settings out there to list here. Hopefully your camera will let you override your camera’s sensor and allow the flash to fire. My suggestion is to read the camera’s manual, or find something online to assist you (like an instructional video on YouTube, etc.). If you want to give this a go, but maybe need a little assistance, contact me and I can possibly help!

Steve Holsonback
Instructional Media Design Specialist
Center for Academic & Professional Excellence
Ext. 3425


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