Nuking the sun

Daniel Alamo

My trip to Texas brought it home again – or it would have, if it weren’t already firmly home. Flash, especially in bright weather, is essential.
I thought it might be good to illustrate this once more by way of example, using some of last week’s Texas pictures.
When, then, do you need flash? Leaving aside the obvious “when it is dark”, I will concentrate on three more interesting cases, both to do with mixing light.
Case 1: to light backlit subjects. Look at Jason in Little Rock, Ark (on our way home). In image one, he is backlit, so while the background is exposed properly, he is too dark. Short of putting him into the sun, there is no way of escaping this problem other than by metering off him or using “+” exposure compensation (which would make the background way too bright), or by using what we call “fill flash”.

No Flash
You can even use your popup flash for this: it gets you from image one to image two, where Jason is lit properly:


Look how much better that looks. And note that in this case, where the flash is adding to existing light it is OK to aim straight at the subject.

Case 2: to darken the background; in particular, the sky. It comes as an epiphany to most photographers when they realise that you can make a blue sky anything from deep brooding dark blue to milky white, just by adjusting the exposure. Turning the sjy dark by overpowering (or “nuking”) the sun is a very powerful creative technique.
The picture of Daniel above, at The Alamo, illustrates this. I metered using the fully automatic evaluative (Nikon would call this “3D Matrix”) metering, and I used an exposure compensation setting of minus 1 stop. That darkened the sky. Then I used my 580EX MkII flash to add light to Daniel’s face, which would otherwise be way too dark. The shutter speed was 1/250th second (the 1Ds’s maximum sync speed) at f/14 at 100 ISO.
Case 3: to add colour. The BBQ picture below shows how this is done. Available light alone would not have made the meat (and Texas is all about meat) look at bright, vibrant, and if you are a carnivore, inviting. Adding flash (and in this case, bouncing it off the wall to avoid shadows) adds vibrancy to the colour that you would otherwise miss dearly.


So turn on your flash and have fun!

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