Simple Fill Flash Tips

Simple Fill Flash Tips


A Guest Post by Mia Johnstone.

Learning some very simple fill flash tips will help elevate the quality of your photographs. This tutorial will teach you to fill in shadows and help create more professional looking portraits. These tips can be applied to shooting indoors with window light and can also be great for shooting outdoors in open shade (no direct sunlight).

IMG_1965.jpgYou need:

  • A DSLR camera
  • Basic working knowledge of manual mode
  • An off camera flash with variable light output (you can get basic ones for $100)
  • An optional filter for your flash (softens light).

1. Have your model sit facing a window. Photographer should have the window to their back. See photo below. The whole point to fill flash is that it’s just ‘fill’. You will need a main light source. Natural light is free and readily available. See below how we set up the shot.

2. Depending on how strong the window lighting is, your ISO should be at around 100 or 200. I usually shoot at an aperture of 3 or 3.5. Then set your shutter speed appropriately, but not faster than 1/250. My settings=ISO 100, aperture 3.5, 1/125 speed.

3. Set your flash to manual mode and your variable light output to 1/34. If you are using a filter on your flash, your flash head should be at a 45 degree angle, if possible. Take a test shot. If I am only a few feet away from my subject, this is usually too bright. I love 1/64 or 1/128 light output from a flash. It gives that extra splash of light to help fill in the shadows.

Metered for natural light. Added fill flash at 1/64 power. A balanced image.

No flash. Dark shadows around nose and eye.

flash at 1/32 power. A little too bright

Flash at 1/32 power. A little too bright.

Taking a good portrait is very simple. The portrait above with no flash isn’t a bad image. But when you add some flash, it gives the model and photo a whole new dimension. You can use these simple tips when you take wedding photographs, at the beach on cloudy days, or when you just want to give your photos some extra life.

Mia Johnstone is a professional photographer in Los Angeles. Read about her love of photography at

Read more from our category

Guest Contributor This post was written by a guest contributor to dPS.
Please see their details in the post above.

Become a Contributor: Check out Write for DPS page for details about how YOU can share your photography tips with the DPS community.

Some Older Comments

  • ron March 21, 2013 12:53 pm

    You are so lucky to have those windows for natural light. Consider buying two foamcore boards and use them for fill. Forget the flash in that room.

  • AJ October 1, 2012 11:52 pm

    I've just started in photography but I have read a lot of books. Surely it would have been better to shoot at eye level (down on one knee) rather than shooting down on the subject. This would having eliminated the shadow under the nose.

  • Beverly McGrath September 30, 2012 08:57 pm

    How do you set the variable light output on the camera?

  • Brian Fuller September 25, 2012 02:37 am

    As soon as I noticed the shadow from the flash under the nose on that first pic, now I can't not see it. The natural photo with no flash is definitely better - though way too close as it draws attention to her nose. Should have taken the photo from further back with a longer zoom.

  • Sillyxone September 22, 2012 10:21 am

    Could have been clearer about the 1/250 sync speed limit, some camera can have higher number

  • ROD FERMIN September 21, 2012 09:43 pm

    Asian brides are normally brown-skinned...I therefore adjust fill flash strength, as the case calls for it.

  • Bob Bevan Smith September 21, 2012 09:14 pm

    There is no point in angling the flashgun if there is nothing for the light to reflect from. In that case, point the flash directly at the subject, and reduce its power.
    Also, I agree that in the illustrations, there is an ugly shadow under the model's nose. That too would be eliminated by a direct flash.
    The trick is to limit the power of the flash to less than that of the main light source, so that it simply "fills in" the darker areas, without adding shadows of its own. And make sure that there isn't a double highlight in the model's eyes.
    Finally, you don't need a DSLR. You just need any camera with a hot shoe or able to control the output of the on-camera flash. You can also reduce the power of your flash with a diffuser, including improvising with a piece of white paper or a handkerchief. Experiment!

  • Jim September 21, 2012 11:52 am

    Great Looking Model. (wow)

  • jackie September 21, 2012 08:33 am

    i actually like the one that you say is too bright - her eyes sparkle more :)

  • Gingerbaker September 21, 2012 05:53 am

    Why have the subject face the window? I think you will find that a back-lit subject illuminated by fill flash is a recipe for outstanding portraits, especially outdoors against an early morning or evening sky.

  • Gail September 21, 2012 03:10 am

    The basic tutorial is fabulous for people like myself who's knowledge is very limited. It matters not about the final shots, just that I can differentiate between them after the description of the tutorial. And I can. So job done, and well done. I am also a Sony dslr shooter, and have taken some great shots, but I want to learn more.

  • jeff September 21, 2012 01:33 am

    Completely agree with Eik. I find that unless it's a bright day (and associated issues with that), fill flash is required for even decent pictures of the family.

    I'm now a Sony DSLR shooter. Any suggestions for a small, light hotshoe flash? The super portable Sony flash is no good, as it takes FOREVER to recycle to the next shot - the on camera flash is faster. It's ridiculous.

  • Eik Kerstenbeck September 21, 2012 12:39 am


    Fill flash is essential for outdoor work - here we had the model in partial shade and then gently lit her up

  • EnergizedAV September 21, 2012 12:28 am

    Good short and sweet . I like the simple sheers set up in your last image.
    Thanks Mia

  • vinyp September 20, 2012 11:41 pm

    I wouldn't get all caught up the details of the model and's a simple tutorial. I agree with this technique and employ it on a regular basis. The only difference between this and my process is that since I am in manual mode, I prefer to underexpose the metering of available light just a bit (maybe 1/3 to 2/3) to make the subject pop a bit more from the background.!i=769210706&k=ThpDQ

  • Magno September 20, 2012 09:16 pm

    Of course the photos could have been so much better, but I guess that's not the point. It's just a simple tutorial.

  • Yoan September 20, 2012 06:33 pm

    I can only agree with Jai. Those shots aren't bad but they should've been taken from a lower POV and with a longer lens.

  • Luc Lodder September 20, 2012 04:46 pm

    I disagree. The photo with the flash show an ugly shadow of her nose below her nose. I'd use no flash and post-process the shadows lighter. With today's technology it's no problem to enhance shadows 1 stop.

  • Mia Johnstone September 20, 2012 03:50 pm

    Jai, thanks for that feedback. I chose the simplest photos to demonstrate the fill flash. I was more focused on teaching the technique than getting the best photos (poses, background etc). You can see the actual results from this photo shoot at . I love how the images came out.
    I should have worn a different shirt in that last photo. Silly me, I was focusing on my model.

  • Jessi September 20, 2012 12:34 pm

    When shooting outside, do you still tilt your flash at a 45 degree angle, even though there is no ceiling for bounce?

  • Mei Teng September 20, 2012 10:08 am

    Thanks for sharing this simple tutorial. The image with the added fill flash is definitely much better.

  • Jai Catalano September 20, 2012 06:39 am

    I think the idea is dead on and I agree with you but the photos could have been so much better.