1. Fill in shadows
capture cool skies or backlight opportunities
When the light gets harsh or contrasty, don’t be tempted to put away your camera. Instead, pull out your flash. Use this tool to your advantage to fill in the shadows anywhere in your scene.
Adding a soft box on your flash will provide a smooth, subtle bump of light. This allows you to counter the brightness of sunlight without the foreground or your primary subject looking harshly lit. Your goal is for viewers not to notice that you’ve used flash – just that the scene is pleasing to look at.
As you balance out the light, you’ll find you don’t have to sacrifice highlights to get detail in the shadows, or vice versa. You can retain the bold, beautiful color in the sky, and capture the richness of your entire composition.
2. Add dimension to a natural setting
Set a mood or highlight a subject in a setting
Flash can be used as the primary light source in a scene, which gives you the opportunity to truly craft an interesting composition.
In flat light, you can use a flash to build more contrast between highlights and shadows, which will set a subject apart from the rest of the scene. This adds depth and interest that otherwise wouldn’t be available.
Or, you can play with exposure and the direction of light to create a certain mood, whether that is mysterious, dramatic, inviting, or so on. Try using multiple flashes to light foreground and background in intriguing ways.
3. Get the studio feel while outside
darken your backgrounds or build dramatic side light
If you really want to play with dramatic light and isolate a subject from the rest of the scene, a flash is a must-have tool.
Use a fast shutter speed and place your flash in various locations around the subject to create different effects.
You have the ability to make your own backlighting, side lighting, balanced light with multiple flashes… the only limit is how many flashes and spare batteries you brought!
This strategy is most effective with macro photography, since it’s difficult to light a large outdoor scene so selectively. But that doesn’t mean you can’t try. Be careful… this can be addictively fun.
Because I won’t remove plants or animals from the location where I find them, flash is essential if I want to create studio-style images in situ. Below are three examples of the exact same flower photographed in situ, with the same lens and flash set-up. I only needed to move the flash around or adjust the power output to create a different look. I took dozens of photos of this flower while playing with light – then left it healthy and unharmed in its forest home.