Look ma, no flash

One of the things I gave up when I changed camera bodies was a built-in flash. That may not seem like such a big deal, since built-in flashes are known for washing pictures out, causing harsh shadows and red eyes.

A built-in flash can have its good points, though. For example, used sparingly as “fill light”, it can provide just enough light to bring a subject out of the shadows – such as this trillium I shot last year in the spring. (I would have composed it differently now, but it’s a good representation of where I was a year ago!):


Trillium, with fill flash

Fill flash is no longer an option, unless I tote around the Speedlight – which I’m not inclined to do when shooting outdoors. So when I was in California a few weeks ago, I picked up a little 12″ white/gold reflector. I had seen videos of reflectors used for outdoor portraits, but hadn’t used one myself. This little guy folds up to a nice size that fits in the side pocket of my camera bag. I knew it wouldn’t be big enough for portraits, but then again, I just don’t do that many portraits!

During my lunch break the other day, I played around with taking photos of onion flowers. With the sun high up in the sky (and a little bit south), the bottom side of the front flower was in complete shadow.

Onion Flower - shadow

Not much to see – on the bottom half, anyway

It was time to break out the reflector, to see what it could do to help.

At first I tried using the white side, but didn’t notice any difference – so I tried the gold. And sure enough, it lit up the bottom of the flower. A little too much.

Onion flower - overlit

What is that unnatural glow?

So just for comparison purposes, I tried the white side. I didn’t see it out in the field – too much glare on the camera display – but when I loaded up the picture at home, I saw that the white side cast a nice amount of light. (It could have been aimed slightly higher.)

Onion flower

Ahhh, that’s better.

At that point, I put the reflector away, and started taking pictures from down below the flowers. They’re about 5′ tall, so it wasn’t so difficult! Although I didn’t use the reflector on (what I considered to be) the best shot of the series, I was able to simulate the under-lighting using the shadow slider in Lightroom:

Onion flower and bees from below

Bzzz from below

So the verdict is: both the reflector and the Lightroom shadow adjustment will do the job. For me, lightening it up with software is easier – but I’d love to hear other opinions!


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