Working with Fill Flash

I just got back from the Florida’s Birding and Photo Festival and it was a lot of fun.  They offer over 100 workshops, field sessions, and photo shoots during the five-day program. The subjects are varied, ranging on everything from “Birds in Flight” to “Horses on the Beach” to “Expanding Your Creativity with Time/Motion Techniques” to “Portraits Unplugged.” There is something here for everyone! Next year’s dates are April 22-26, 2020. More info here.

My favorite event to photograph is the horses on the beach. This year I thought I would do something different (for me) and experiment with fill flash.

The first morning I forgot to set my camera to rear curtain, so when I used the flash with slow shutter speeds and panned with the subjects, their motion blurs were in front of the subjects, which can look a little strange. If you use rear curtain flash, the motion blurs are behind the subject.  Here are a few examples.

4900-20190424-0645.jpg1/15 sec; f/8; ISO 400; 85mm fill flash, front curtain


In this image you can see the motion in front of the rider. Some people find this objectionable, in this case it doesn’t really bother me too much and it helps with the 3D look of the image. I did all kinds of experimenting change the power of the flash and found I liked the images better early in the morning when the flash was doing more than just filling in shadows.  I liked it better when the flash was adding a lot of light to my subjects.

Here is another with front curtain flash, but since the rider is moving slowly, there was no motion blur captured.

4900-20190425-WAL_1258.jpg1/30 sec; f/7.1; ISO 640; 75mm; fill flash, front curtain


For the remainder of the days, I set the camera to rear curtain.  Here are some of the results.

4900-20190427-WAL_1799.jpg1/30 sec; f/5.6; ISO 2500; 80mm; fill flash, rear curtain


4900-20190427-WAL_1877.jpg1/30 sec; f/6.3; ISO 500; 66mm; fill flash, rear curtain


4900-20190427-WAL_1873.jpg1/30 sec; f/6.3; ISO 500; 85mm; fill flash, rear curtain


You can see the limited motion blur is behind the horse and rider.

And here is an image with high speed/ rear curtain flash settings.

4900-20190427-WAL_1978.jpg1/800 sec; f/6.3; ISO 1250; 62mm; fill flash, rear curtain


At fast shutter speeds there is no motion blur, it only shows with slow speed and you are “dragging” the shutter.

I did manage to get some nice images in spite of what felt like fumbling around to me.  But I have learned from the experience and have a few ideas of new things to try next year. My recommendation is to experiment with your flash gear and hopefully find some repeatable action that you can try different setting and figure out what you like best. Perhaps going to some local kids sporting events may be the perfect place to practice. Or if you have a dog that never gets tired, have someone throw a ball or stick over and over while your practice. Whatever you choose, practicing and adding a flash to your photographic toolset will help you get better images.