Fill Flash and Dog Photography

Occasionally when photographing dogs outdoors you need supplemental lighting, or fill flash. Even though it sounds like it refers to a piece of equipment, fill flash is actually a technique whereby you use your camera’s flash (often at reduced power) in situations where the natural light is so intense that it makes for an extremely high-contrast photo (the shadows become extremely dark and the highlights extremely light).

The flash you use is just meant to fill in the dark areas — hence the term fill flash — and is particularly useful if your light source is behind your subject. For example, if Sonny is lying in the middle of the yard at high noon without any shade in sight, his adorable facial features will probably get lost in the shadows. Brighten up those shadowed areas by adding fill flash.

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28mm, 1/2000 sec., f/3.2, 100    28mm, 1/3200 sec., f/3.2, 100

Here, you can compare the photo of Sammy without fill flash on the left with the one on the right that has fill flash. In the photo that has fill flash, notice how the dark shadows on her face are considerably lighter and her eyes have more detail instead of looking like dark black voids.

The photographer pointed the flash directly at Sammy (which is usually a no-no, but okay when you’re outdoors because the light gets diffused so much by the competing bright light) and dialed down the intensity of the flash with a –2/3 flash exposure compensation.

Consider using fill flash when you can’t avoid shooting at high noon or when your subject is backlit and cast in shadow. If you’re using a digital SLR, you have to manually pop open your flash; it doesn’t automatically trigger, because you have plenty of light to take a photo in the first place.

Set your camera to either shutter-priority or aperture-priority mode. Your camera should dial down the flash automatically because it senses enough ambient light in the mix, but if your photo ends up looking unnatural, with your dog clearly being blasted with a flash, you may want to take advantage of your flash exposure compensation.

This setting is buried within your menus, and you need your user manual to find it, but when you do, you’re able to increase and decrease the intensity of your built-in flash by plus or minus two stops. The hardest part about using fill flash is finding the perfect balance so your photo still looks natural. Taking advantage of your camera’s flash exposure compensation is the only way to tame that built-in flash beast.

Some compact digital cameras (CDCs) have a fill flash setting that allows you to force the flash on (when the camera thinks it’s not needed) and that fires with slightly less intensity than normal. Refer to your camera’s manual to find out whether your CDC is equipped with this feature.

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