Tips & Tutorials

Flash Techniques #1: How to Deal with Harsh Shadows Caused by Backlight

When taking portrait photos towards a bright sun, the strong backlight may cause dark shadows to appear on the face or body of your subject. Even if you use exposure compensation there is a limit to how much compensation you can use. In the following, I will show you a technique using the built-in flash that will solve this issue. (Reported by: Teppei Kohno)

EOS 760D/ EF-S18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM/ FL: 45mm (72mm equivalent)/ Manual exposure (f/8, 1/200 sec)/ ISO 100/ WB: Auto


When exposure compensation is not enough, you can reduce contrast by using the built-in flash



EOS 760D/ EF-S55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS STM/ FL: 55mm (88mm equivalent)/ Aperture-priority AE (f/4, 1/50 sec)/ ISO 400/ WB: Auto
Exposure compensation was set to EV+1. Unfortunately, the periphery of the face is still quite dark.


EOS 760D/ EF-S55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS STM/ FL: 55mm (88mm equivalent)/ Aperture-priority AE (f/4, 1/160 sec)/ ISO 400/ WB: Auto
By using the built-in flash, the subject became brighter and contrast was also reduced.


Although the common impression of flashes is that they are used at night when there is low light, you can often use them in the daytime when it is bright as well. They are particularly effective when shooting a human subject against backlight. Although you can also make the entire picture look brighter by increasing the exposure compensation, this may easily cause blow out (overexposure) as the background becomes even brighter. Furthermore, contrast is higher under strong backlight, so increasing the compensation may not brighten the subject enough. For such scenes, you should use the built-in flash. The light from the built-in flash will be able to compensate for the backlight that falls on the subject thus reducing the contrast, and enabling you to depict your subject brightly with a distinct texture. This photography technique where you use flash in natural daylight is called ‘daytime sync’, and is also referred to as fill-in flash photography.

Daytime sync can be used with any camera mode. As shown below, you will just have to activate the built-in flash to shoot with flash. Try taking outdoor portraits using this method.



When taking portrait photos by framing the photo vertically, be careful not to cover the flashlight



EOS 760D/ EF-S18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM/ FL: 18mm (28mm equivalent)/ Manual exposure (f/8, 1/200 sec)/ ISO 100/ WB: Auto
Here a finger blocks the flashlight, resulting in a shadow on a part of the subject.


EOS 760D/ EF-S18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM/ FL: 18mm (28mm equivalent)/ Manual exposure (f/8, 1/200 sec)/ ISO 100/ WB: Auto
When the camera is held correctly without covering the built-in flash, the light will be distributed evenly and illuminate the subject fully.


How to use the built-in flash

1.  Press the button beside the built-in flashlight

There is a button on the left side of the camera body (* with a mark indicating that it is the flashlight).


2. The built-in flashlight will pop-up

Check that the built-in flash pops up.


3.Click the shutter button

Take a photo by clicking the shutter button. You may use it with any camera mode.


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EF-S18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM

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EF-S55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS STM

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Teppei Kohno


Born in Tokyo in 1976, Kohno graduated with a Social Work degree from the Department of Sociology of Meiji Gakuin University, and apprenticed with photographer Masato Terauchi. He contributed to the first issue of photography magazine PHaT PHOTO and became an independent photographer after that, in 2003. The author of many books, Kohno not only shoots all sorts of commercial photographs, but also writes prolifically for camera and other magazines.



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