Monday, August 30, 2010

Fill Flash: Summer Pool Party! (Basic)

We attended a summer pool party-themed birthday hosted by our friends.  It was sunny but not hot - just absolutely perfect weather to have a dip in the pool.

Chastened by my failure to take good photos at our toddler's birthday, this time I resolved to take a back-to-basics approach.  How basic?  I stuck to on-camera flash, on TTL, bare (no diffusers or anything), in almost all cases direct frontal light.  OK, I can see the tomatoes coming from the strobist crowd... :)  There is a certain logic to the approach I took.  Outdoors, with virtually no suitable bounce surface, using flash for on-axis fill is a logical technique.

A second technique I used was to do my best to avoid direct sunlight on the face of the subject.  Direct sunlight looks boring (to me), is rarely flattering, and de-saturates colors:

Instead, I tried to use the sunlight as backlight or rim light.

Applying just those three simple lighting techniques, I was able to focus on capturing key moments, composition, and even on enjoying myself.  How'd the shots turn out?  Not bad, in my opinion.  In most cases, the Nikon TTL-BL was smart enough to know when the flash was functioning only as fill to lift shadows, so shadows still looked like shadows instead of being blasted by flash.  Compare the shots below.  The top shot is ambient only (the light on our toddler's face is from sunlight bouncing from the white towel), while the bottom shot is with flash.  The flash lifted the shadows without obliterating them, and managed to maintain a similar pattern of highlight and shadow as with the ambient-only shot.  The downside is that the flash did create its own shadow because it wasn't sufficiently on-axis.  (In the future I wish to try David Hobby's on-axis fill flash method or perhaps try a ring flash.)

After I got some safe shots, I tried from time to time switching to ambient only or to off-camera flash.  The ambient usually required some compromise such as leaving the shadowed areas underexposed, or overexposing the background (which would require layers and masks to fix in postprocessing), so I kept going back to using fill-flash.

Ambient only (background overexposed):

Ambient only (subject underexposed):

My off-camera shots weren't good either, in part because I didn't bring a tripod to use as a boom for the light.

Here are a few shots from the party (most are straight out of the camera or with just minor adjustments):

Our toddler didn't want to leave:

After the party, we went around a bit and enjoyed the scenery.

Best of all, we had an awesome time!


  1. Hello
    Like you said using a flash on camera makes a strobist like me to send you this :)

    I have to admit is not all the time easy to set up off flashes all around, some time impossible

    I have to use TTL on camera ….not so easy also … .
    You did pretty well with the cross lights, you have nice shadows on your son

    1st and 3rd one are my favorites

    BTW :nice pool

  2. Thanks, Robert. It's just like sausages. Sometimes it's better not to know how it was made. :))


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