Using Fill-in Flash with Natural Light for Portrait Photography

Balancing bright sunlight and softer shadows is a common problem when you’re photographing people, and if your subject is in the shade, it can be difficult to expose your subject correctly without making your background too bright.

In this photography class Karl explains how to use fill-in flash and why and when it is useful. He shoots a number of images to show you how the technique can be used to take better portrait images.

He then also shows you how to use this same technique in low light, useful for if you’re wanting to capture city lights in the background of your image.

In this photography class we cover the following:

  • How to use your compact camera
  • Portrait photography
  • Using fill-in flash for portraiture
  • How to use fill-in flash in the daytime
  • Using flash in low light

To learn more about some of the concepts discussed in this class, take a look at our Photography Quick Start Guide.

If you have any questions about this photography class please post in the comments section below.

NOTE: This photography class is available with subtitles.


  1. Hello Karl,

    I am trying to do kind of the same thing (subject in the shadow with a bright background) with my Canon Rebel T3i in Manual mode. My problem is that the AE lock button does not lock the exposure for the background and when I move to my subject the ISO goes up and changes my exposure. Is it because I have my ISO on auto?

    Thank you!

    1. Hi yes if you have anything on Auto then it will adjust, so in your case because of the ISO. Put everything in manual, shutter, aperture and ISO and you will solve the problem.

  2. Hello Karl,

    I’ve heard you mentioning using the histogram to set up your picture. I which video class do you discuss this in more detail?



  3. I was always taught not to use on camera flash because it is not the most flattering but of course, there is no such thing as off camera flash for a compact camera that I am aware of. Again, while natural for her, why didn’t you have the girl take her glasses off?

  4. Mr Karl, can we also use AEB (Auto Exposure Bracketing)setting as an easier way to get the right exposures? By allowing the camera take 3 different shots of varying exposure i would assume it would take the guess work out of find the right exposure. what do you reckon?

    1. Hi Magdalene, no I wouldn’t recommend that. It’s much better to look at your exposure and histogram to know when you’ve got the right exposure and then just start shooting at those settings (with or without flash) if you are bracketing shots then 2 out of 3 will be the wrong exposure and you might miss a ‘moment’.

  5. thank you for clearing this. In my Canon rebel T5, i had to select ONE SHOT AF (for still subjects) in the AF operation, AI SERVO (for moving objects) & AI FOCUS . by pressing the shutter halfway locked the focus then allowed me to recompose the subject. i didnt know this until i watched your video!

  6. Hi Karl
    I have a question?
    If you press the shutter button half way to get the exposure correct in the background, doesn’t it also focus on the background, e.g, the Queen Mary, and if so, when you return to the subject and take the shot with flash, is the subject sharpe as well! And if so does it have something to do with the f-stop, e.g f16.

    Thanks Karl

    Great videos


    1. Hi Conon, this question has come up before and this was an error on our part in the edit and my description of this model camera. As a result here is a previous response that applies: I’ve checked the manual for this camera and here is the link to the manual
      On page 97 you will find the instructions on how to lock the focus and the exposure separately, I suspect that what has happened is that I did not describe this procedure accurately in the video and my apologies for this mistake. From the information in the manual it would appear that there would have been one extra button pressed on the back of the camera to lock the exposure but not the focus. It may be that this was edited out of the footage by mistake in the final video.

      As an additional note, on many cameras either compact or DSLR there is usually a button to separately lock the exposure or focus. As all cameras are different you may need to refer to your cameras manual to find the position of those buttons. Cheers Karl.

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