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Balancing flash with daylight/fill flash

There are many circumstances when a photographer wants to take advantage of the ambient illumination along with a subtle amount of artificial fill light.  Fill flash, when used judiciously, offers several advantages in creating professional-looking photographs.

When making outdoor portraits, a subtle amount of additional light on a face puts a catchlight in the eyes and adds life and color to the skin.  It also fills the shadows in wrinkle lines which tends to make a person look younger.  When the ambient light level is low, and the shutter speed needed is dangerously slow, fill flash can help push it to the next higher setting.

Consider an outdoor portrait on a dark, overcast day.  The objective here is to expose for the subject and its background while adding a hint of illumination to the foreground.  Ideally, the fill flash is hardly noticed.  If too much light fills the subject, he or she will either be overexposed or the background will be too dark.

The first step, then, is to take a reading on the subject.  On an overcast day, the foreground and the background should be receiving approximately the same amount of light.  A typical reading on a dull, cloudy day at ISO 100 would be about 1/60 at f/5.6.  Most photographers prefer their fill flash to be about two-thirds to one stop below the ambient light, but this is entirely a creative decision.  Assuming that you prefer one stop, take flash readings until the meter reads "f/4", one stop below the ambient level of f/5.6.

Remember that you are working with two light sources, so knowing the "correct" exposure for each is important.  The intensity of the ambient, background light is controlled mostly by the shutter speed.  For the fill flash, make sure your strobe is in a manual setting (Auto-thyristor or TTL flash will not meter consistently) when taking your readings.  The Sekonic L-358, 558 and 608 meters will display the percentage of flash present in reading where the ambient light is going to be a factor.  For example, if you take an outdoor flash measurement and the meter shows f/11 @ 1/125 with "70%" on the screen, it means your flash was responsible for 70% of that f/11.  This feature gives you complete control of the way your subject will be lit when working with mixed lighting.  The percentages can be adjusted by changing the shutter speed, flash intensity, or a combination of the two.

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