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Why a Flash Can Improve Your Portraits in Sunlight

If you are new to photography, it can seem a bit counterintuitive that you would use a flash when shooting in direct sunlight, but it can vastly improve your portraits. This excellent video tutorial will show you why you should use a flash in such a situation and how it will improve your photos.

Coming to you from Mark Wallace with Adorama TV, this great video tutorial will show you how and why you should use a flash for outdoor portraits in direct sun. If you are newer to photography, it can seem a bit strange, but the idea is that you can change the unflattering direct sunlight into something that is softer and a bit more flattering for your subject while still getting the bright, vibrant environment for a backdrop. One thing to note is that in this case, Wallace is keeping it pretty simple by using an on-camera flash, but once you feel comfortable with the technique, you can move the flash off your camera and add a modifier for even better results. Check out the video above for the full rundown from Wallace.

And if you would like to learn more about lighting for portraits, be sure to take a look at "Illuminating The Face: Lighting for Headshots and Portraits With Peter Hurley!"

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8 Comments

Jan Holler's picture

With all due respect, this is old hat. And the rule is very simple: Set the flash to one EV lower than the actual exposure value or dial in -1EV in the flash setting if use a TTL-flash.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

So I have been wondering about TTL and portraiture. Since I don’t do seniors and may be shoot a wedding every 4 years, any image I shoot that involves people, I shoot manual and my strobes are not TTL responsive. I’m just used to it and feel comfortable with the control, but I often wonder how portrait photographers enjoy the use of TTL. I get that In this video the use of TTL is beginner oriented, but I feel that TTL has little value here.

Jan Holler's picture

I photographed several weddings in the eighties. TTL was already there, my Nikon FA would have been able to do it. A photographer who ran a store in my town at the time, where I bought my equipment, was a very nice man. I learned a lot from him and he was the one who explained this "rule" to me. It worked very well and my photos were brilliant with great colours and of course without black shadows in the faces. Today I still use this technique and if it wasn't for sports or moving action, I would never use TTL. It doesn't make much sense to use it anyway if you have to manually set the flash for exposure compensation. Use a light meter and then a flash meter, set your camera and choose your flash settings. That's the fastest and most accurate way to do it. And if it is just one flash you won't even need a meter.

Jordan De Bow's picture

I feel like you could have gotten a move flattering photo if your model was facing away from the sun and using the flash as an Off camera light.

Richard King's picture

In every shot the model was in the shade not direct sunlight.

Its easy to have a tall assistant shade the sun for a headshot for a shorter model. In the real world...

Jan Holler's picture

...you could use a reflector holder. But what I do not understand in this setup is: Why would he block all the direct light from and not use the translucent part to diffuse the hard sun light? That is why the photos all look as photos do look when one uses a flash directly towards the subject (glossy parts on the nose, the cheeks or the forehead).

Richard King's picture

Yes, exactly