Flash for Landscape? You bet!


Flash has a rather underserved reputation for only being useful for indoor or nighttime photography. In fact, nothing can be further from the truth. When the camera’s flash is the only light used to illuminate a scene, the light can look garish and uneven. Flash, technically called “fill flash” is best used to fill in the shadows of a scene to make the light look more natural, not less.

In landscape photography, we are often presented with situations in which the foreground is slightly darker than the background or sky. If we expose for the sky, the foreground will end up very dark or silhouetted. In cases like these, the judicious use of fill flash can help even out the scene. The accompanying image made at the top of Sentinel Dome in Yosemite National Park was made using a Canon Elan 7 with Fuji Velvia film, and an off camera fill flash to highlight the tree’s texture. Because I was shooting film, I made a lot of exposures. I bracketed both the ambient light exposure using the shutter speed, and the flash output. Using digital will allow you to preview your results and adjust accordingly.

It is important to use a flash that will let you adjust its output because full power flash looks fake in landscape photography. Generally turning the flash down by 1½ to 2 stops will yield good results. Not all flashes have the ability to manually adjust the power output. I was teaching a photography workshop last weekend and had a student who didn’t have a manual setting for his flash. I suggested he experiment by placing his finger over part of the flash, and he ended up getting some pretty good results.

If you are serious about landscape photography, a good investment is a tool called an off camera shoe cord. It allows you to move the flash a few feet away from the camera, and still get all of the benefits of through-the-lens flash metering. Moving the flash off camera allows you to slightly sidelight your subject adding more texture to it.

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