LOGIN/SIGN UP function is disabled for upgrade and maintenance. It will resume on 22/01/2022 10.30 AM SGT. Sorry for any inconvenience caused.
Tips & Tutorials >> All Tips & Tutorials

[Flash Technique] How to Achieve Dramatic Colours in Backlight

When shooting in backlight, recovering details from the RAW file is not your only option when you have a Speedlite on hand. Here’s how you can use daylight sync technique (also known as a fill flash) to bring out vivid colours in the foreground in dramatic fashion. (Reported by: Kazuo Nakahara, Digital Camera Magazine)

EOS 5D Mark III/ EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM/ FL: 16mm/ Manual exposure (f/16, 1/200 sec)/ ISO 50/ WB: Auto

Shot with no flash

Without a flash, the flowers in the foreground become dark. When it’s too dark, it can be hard to recover details even from the RAW file, and aggressive recovery will affect the image quality.


Step 1: Expose for the background

Using manual exposure mode, adjust your exposure settings so that the background is properly exposed. Make sure that the shutter speed is not faster than the flash sync speed (usually 1/200 sec or 1/250 sec, depending on your camera model). For this shot, I exposed for the blue sky as I wanted to capture the sun’s rays.


Step 2: Adjust the flash exposure compensation to balance with the background

Taking test shots, adjust the flash exposure compensation as necessary.

The idea of “balance” depends on your intended final image. Here, I wanted the final outcome to look darker, so I used a very low intensity: flash exposure compensation EV-1.7.

How to set flash exposure compensation on the flash*

*For some Speedlite models, you will need to set this on the camera. Instructions here (see Step 8).

1. Press the [+/-] button on your flash.

2. Turn the dial or use the cross keys to adjust the flash exposure compensation. Press the [SEL/SET] button when you are done.

Note: The interface varies for different Speedlite models. When in doubt, refer to the user manual.


Step 3: Use an ultra-wide-angle lens and light up only the centre

The flash angle (flash coverage) that is set determines how diffused the light is throughout the frame. Usually, you would want it to be the same as your lens focal length so that the entire frame is evenly lit. However, you can achieve a more dramatic “spotlight” effect by setting the flash angle to something narrower and aiming the flash at the centre of the frame.

In this shot, using this technique lit up only the red flowers in the centre, making them look more prominent.

How to set the flash coverage on the flash*

* For some Speedlite models, you will need to set this on the camera. Instructions here (see Step 9 - Tip).

1. Press the [ZOOM] button. (On some Speedlite models, look for the [Zm/C.Fn] button.)

2. Use the dial or the cross keys to select the flash angle, and then press the "SEL/SET" button to confirm the selection. If “AUTO” is selected, the optimal flash coverage for the attached lens will be used, and no focal length will be shown next to “Zoom” on the flash display.

Note: The interface varies for different Speedlite models. When in doubt, refer to the user manual.


For more flash photography techniques, see:
How Do I Capture Portraits With Background Bokeh Under Backlit Conditions?
Creating a Pop Art-inspired Night Portrait
2 Instant Techniques to Liven Up Your Outdoor Portraits

Learn more about Speedlites in:
What are the Benefits of an External Flash?
What is E-TTL II Flash Metering?
Choosing an External Flash (1): Flash Power


Receive the latest update on photography news, tips and tricks.

Be part of the SNAPSHOT Community.

Sign Up Now!

Digital Camera Magazine

Digital Camera Magazine

A monthly magazine that believes that enjoyment of photography will increase the more one learns about camera functions. It delivers news on the latest cameras and features and regularly introduces various photography techniques.
Published by Impress Corporation

Kazuo Nakahara

Kazuo Nakahara

Born in Hokkaido in 1982, Nakahara turned to photography after working at a chemical manufacturing company. He majored in photography at the Vantan Design Institute and is a lecturer for photography workshops and seminars, in addition to working in commercial photography. He is also a representative of the photography information website studio9.