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Built-in Flash Techniques #3: Create Dramatic Portraits with Daylight Sync

Darkening the background and brightening your subject allows you to take dramatic portraits that make it look as if the person is bathed in a spotlight, making them the centre of attention. By using this technique outdoors, it is possible to take impressive and sometimes surreal-looking images. This is a technique called daylight sync, and in this article, we show you how you can use flash exposure compensation to adjust the light of your built-in flash for best results. (Reported by: Teppei Kohno)

EOS 760D/ EF-S18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM/ FL: 18mm (28mm equivalent)/ Manual exposure (f/11, 1/200 sec)/ ISO 100
Flash exposure compensation EV+2


Use the built-in flash and apply positive flash exposure compensation to achieve a spotlight effect

*Shooting Procedure
A: Set the shooting mode to Manual, and increase the f-number. Set the shutter speed to the flash sync speed of the camera.
B: Apply positive flash exposure compensation to the built-in flash for the shoot.
C: Check the result of your shoot, and adjust the flash exposure compensation so that the subject is captured brightly.
D: Increase the f-number to make the background even darker.

The technique that I would like to introduce in this article is ‘Daylight Sync’, which involves using the flash under bright, natural light. Set the exposure to make the background darker overall, and use the built-in flash to light up the subject. Doing so will ensure that only the subject is bathed in flash light, making her stand out as if under a spotlight.

The key point is to use the flash exposure compensation function of the built-in flash. The amount of light emitted by the flash can be adjusted in the camera settings. Making the flash brighter increases the contrast between dark and light, producing a powerful image that is well balanced. Also, I recommend setting the lens to the wide-angle end. By increasing the proportion of the dark background in the image, you can produce a stronger spotlight effect. Another feature of this is that it increases the sense of spaciousness and makes for a vibrant image.


Negative example - Flash exposure compensation: EV±0

Good example - Flash exposure compensation: EV+2

Left: Flash exposure compensation: EV±0
There is little difference in exposure between the background and subject, resulting in a photo with an overall dark impression.

Right: Flash exposure compensation: EV+2
Applying a large positive compensation for the flash exposure creates a greater contrast between the light and dark of the background and subject, increasing the spotlight effect.



Use manual exposure to adjust the brightness of the background

f/8/ 1/200 sec/ ISO 100

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
For this shot I set the shutter speed to the flash sync speed of 1/200. The photo had a dark background and a strong spotlight effect on the subject.


f/8/ 1/80 sec/ ISO 100

EOS 760D/ EF-S18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM/ FL: 18mm (28mm equivalent)/ Manual exposure (f/8, 1/80 sec)/ ISO 100/ WB: Auto
I took this shot using the same f-number, with the shutter speed set to 1/80 seconds. Here, the background is brighter, and the spotlight effect on the subject is more subdued.


The key point for this technique is to increase the f-number so that even the far background is properly captured, to create a surreal image. When your photos have a darker finish overall, Manual mode is handy as it lets you adjust the f-number and shutter speed.

In the steps above, I explained about increasing the f-number to darken the background. However, you can set a slower shutter speed to do the opposite and brighten the background. While the shutter speed to be used in conjunction with the built-in flash must be set to the flash sync speed determined by the camera, setting a slower shutter speed than that allows you to adjust the brightness of the image.


How to set to Manual mode when using Daylight Sync (*For EOS 760D)

1. Set the mode dial to [M]

Press the "MENU" button and select "Flash Control" under Shooting tab 1. Set the ISO speed to ISO 100.


2. Set the shutter speed

Turn the Main Dial to set the flash sync speed of the camera (EOS 760D: 1/200 sec).


3. Set the f-number

Press and hold the Exposure Compensation button on the rear of the camera body while turning the Main Dial to set the f-number. As a guide, use f/8 to properly capture the background, and then adjust accordingly to achieve the desired result.


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EF-S18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 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.