However, sometimes the sun doesn't cooperate with our photographic vision. Sometimes we want soft and it gives us hard. Sometimes we need bold and it gives us subdued. Sometimes it gives us something that doesn't work at all with the subjects that we want to photograph.
That's why I'll often use flash when shooting outside.
In photography, everything is about the light. Light makes the picture. Light defines the personality of your subject matter, and it's how you translate your vision to the rest of the world.
If the sun won't cooperate with us, then using flash will allow you to take great subject that's lit with challenging light, and turn it into a great photograph that's lit with remarkable light. Essentially, flash allows you to take control during those times when you don't have the luxury of great natural light.
Here are two common situations when I use flash in the outdoors. The first one is a trail runner that's shot in the forest. As you probably know, shooting in the forest can be extremely challenging. If you expose for the darker light under the trees, you'll blow out the sky. And if you expose for the sky, you'll get way too many shadows that will make it hard for your subject to stand out.
By using an off camera flash with a small portable softbox, I'm able to reduce the shadows on my subject and create an image that pops much more than if I hadn't used the extra light. Here, I've got a single speedlight set up about 90 degrees off axis from the camera, pointing straight at the runner. I triggered the light from another on-camera speedlight, which has the head zoomed and pointed at the remote unit.
The light from that single flash brightens the subject and makes the image stand out against the pattern of darker trees.
In the next example, I'm shooting a portrait under bright skies. If I expose for the mountains, my subject is lost in black, but if I expose for the model, the sky will wash out. By using a single off camera fill flash, again inside an inexpensive softbox that fits right inside my camera backpack, I'm able to completely rescue this image.
And if I add a second light, I can add even more depth to this image. In the second example, I've got an additional flash pointed straight at the back of her jacket. Notice that faint splash of light on her back; just enough to add a bit of flavor.
That's what you want to go for when using flash outside: subtlety. You don't want the photo to scream "Flash!!" You want it to get in, do its job and get out quietly, without calling too much attention to itself.
Many outdoor photographers shy away from using flash, because they thing that the process will slow them down to much, or because they thing the gear is too heavy. The truth is that modern flash gear makes it very easy and quick to use, and with light shaping tools getting lighter and more compact, there's no reason you can't include one or more of them in your regular outdoor photography rig.
Being comfortable with flash also enhances your skill and marketability as a photographer. It adds depth and dimension to your style. Whether you're looking to get pro work, shoot more sellable stock photos or simply create more memorable images of your friends, your family or your adventures, knowing how to use flash will make a big difference in your work.
Become proficient at carrying and using flash out- side and you'll be able to take your photography to new heights.
© Dan Bailey
NEW EBOOK ALERT
You can find more great outdoor lighting tips just like this one in Dan Baileys new eBook "Going Fast with Light" Available from ProPhotoPublishing.com
About the Author
Dan Bailey is a professional adventure, outdoor and travel photographer based in Anchorage, Alaska. With a shooting style that can be defined as a cross between the raw immersion of first person photojournalism and the focused creativity of high-end commercial photography, he strives to create images that communicate intensity, power and the iconic individualtiy of his subjects.
During the past fifteen years, he has shot for numerous commercial and editorial clients and has licensed his images through ten different stock agencies. Dan's clients include Nikon, Twentieth Century Fox, Outside Magazine, Digital Photo Pro, Discovery Channel Publications and Patagonia.
. Follow him on Twitter @Danbaileyphoto