Back to Basics: Fill Light Two Ways

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Fill light is used when the subject of the photograph is darker than the background. It is intended to lighten shadows and reveal detail. When you observe a photographer using a flash in the outdoors, during the daytime, often they are using the flash as a fill light. There is also a way to increase the fill light via Photoshop. I’ll be giving examples of both in this article.

First, daylight fill flash. Here is a photo that provides a perfect opportunity for using a fill flash.

The subject’s face is obscured by shadow, and there is a very significant exposure difference between the subject and the background. So I popped my Canon Speedlite 580EX II Flash onto my 7D, dialed down the power by a couple of stops, and tried again.

Not the best composition in the world, and the waterfall in the background is kind of distracting, but you get the idea. You can now see the subject’s face, and the exposure difference between the foreground and background isn’t as jarring. Don’t be afraid to use a flash – even your pop-up flash – outside in the daylight.

Now, what do you do if you have a series of photographs that really need some fill light, but you didn’t take any shots with a flash? That’s where Photoshop comes in. Here is the original image:

When opening the RAW image in Photoshop CS5, the Camera Raw editor is displayed. The default “basic” menu contains a setting slider called “Fill Light”. Moving this slider backwards and forwards adjusts the fill light in the image.

Without changing any other settings, I moved the slider from “0″ to “40″. And here is the result:

Detail is immediately revealed and shadows are dissipated. I would probably also increase the vibrance, contrast, and blacks while toying with the Camera Raw settings to further improve this photo.

So there you have it! Two very simple ways to create fill light in your photographs.

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