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How Add Fill Light to Portrait Photos Using the Built-in Flash on Your Camera

Welcome back to 'Introduction to Flash Photography'. In this lesson, you'll learn about the flash that many DSLRs have built right into them. This flash is known as the pop-up flash because it pops up when you want to use it.

In my opinion, the best time to use a pop-up flash is never, if you have an external speedlight, but if that's not the case, then there's a few cases where using your pop-up flash can enhance your images.

One of those situations is when you need to kick up the shadows and a photo that is pretty well lit from natural light. Like this shot here, where the ambient light is coming from above our subject and creating dark circles around the subject's eyes.

This is not ideal. So we can pop up our flash and use it to fill in the places where the natural light is missing. That is why this is called fill light. So let's see what this flash will do for us. Here's the same shot with all of the same settings with just the pop-up flash added.

I'm not really excited about what it looks like, so I'm going to try something a little bit different. I think it has kind of a cheap 'snapshotty' look to it. The flash is kind of overpowering the image, so the best way to make it look better is to turn it down just a bit.

I don't know of any cameras out there that will give you full manual control over the built-in flash, but most of them do have a setting called flash compensation which allows you to adjust the flash's auto settings a little bit. So let's turn the flash compensation on our camera down all the way, and see what that looks like.

I think we went a little too far, so let's turn it back up just a couple of notches.

And I think that looks much better. Now as you can see, the shadows are brightened up just a bit, and now we can see our subject's eyes much better. Another cool thing about the pop-up flashes, that it makes us a little bit of a catch light in our subject's eyes, which kind of brings their eyes to life and makes them seem more alive.

So that's pretty much the only way that I've ever used a built-in flash. In fact, most 'prosumer' and higher level DSLRs like the 5D that I shoot with, don't even have a pop-up flash built in.

The Limitations of Pop-Up Flash

Pop-up flashes are very small and they create a very hard light, which is not flattering. Pop-up flashes are also very close to the lens, which causes red eye and also causes kind of a flat look to most of your images.

I especially don't like pop-up flashes when you're trying to learn flash. Because you don't have manual control over the flash you're constantly trying to guess what the auto mode and your camera is trying to do with the flash. It makes it really difficult to learn and to repeat results.

In my opinion, just about any external flash is better than the built-in flash in your camera. You don't have to go and spend $500 on a brand name dedicated flash. There are plenty of inexpensive alternatives for less than a hundred dollars and some are even less than $50 and they would be great to learn with. So whatever your budget affords, I recommend you get an external flash as soon as possible, especially since pretty much the rest of this course is going to be based on external flashes.

If you don't already have an external flash and you want to get one soon, I recommend you jump ahead a couple  lessons — to the lesson which is an Overview of Speedlights. In that lesson, I give you some tips and some ideas of what kind of flashes will work best for you based on your budget and the kind of things you want to accomplish with flash.

In the next lesson, I'm going to give you a couple of simple tips and tricks so that you can get the most out of your pop-up flash while you're waiting to save up your money for an external flash or while you're waiting for your external flash to come in the mail.

Learn Learning About Small Flash Photography

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