The months November and December are packed with family activities. To capture these moments I use a Nikon SB-700 flash on my camera. However, using flash is not just useful for portraits and parties, but also in nature photography!
Whenever my calendar is full of activities I like to take a moment for myself and go out for a hike at sunrise to clear my mind and do some landscape photography. Last year around this time I took my gear and headed to an old forest called Speulderbos in The Netherlands. Some old Germanic myths are told about this place, what adds to the atmosphere.
It was a beautiful autumn day and later that the morning, the power of the sun increased drastically. Harsh shadows started to appear in the forest, so I decided to pull out my flash and do some experimenting. Flash is a useful tool, not only when there is not enough light, but also when there is a lot of (harsh) light. Flash-light fills the shadows creating a softer look. The difference can be very subtle like in the photos below. In the first picture flash is used to take away some shadows around the stump. In the second shot no flash was used. You have to take a close look to see the differences, but on big prints or screens the differences are more visible. Tip: Download these photos and view them full screen back-and-forth.
Flash also can be used to show more details in close-up photos. In this scenario the difference is more visible. In the first photo flash is used to show more details in darker parts. In the second photo flash was not used.
Keep in mind that there are some rules when it comes to flash: The shutter speed controls the ambient light, the aperture controls not only depth-of-field but also the power of the flash. On top of that: The intensity of light reduces exponentially with every meter/yard (read Jeff Guyer’s article). This means that the background of your landscape picture will not be influenced by the flash light (considering it is far away).
Using flash during landscape and nature photography has it benefits and disadvantages. Benefits are you are able to control the light in your pictures, even if the sun is harsh, which is very useful when making detailed shots for example of flora. Using flash is also great when you shoot against the sun and you want your object to be lit correctly. It will reduce the dynamic range between the background and foreground. This is a great addition to the polarizer and gradual natural density filter (another great article by Jeff Guyer).
During a shoot at the flower industry in Hillegom, The Netherlands, I used this technique with only the pop-up flash and a diffuser. I exposed for the sky and flashed for the foreground.
The disadvantage of using flash is that you have to carry along extra hardware and thus extra weight in your luggage. Besides, in some shots you do not want to reduce contrast in the foreground since it might create a dull flat photo, turning an advantage into a disadvantage. On the other side: Luckily this can be brought back in post-processing yet you maintain details thanks to the flash.
To conclude, this tip is not an answer to the question when to use fill-in flash, the answer lies in what you prefer. To me flash is a powerful tool to expand the dynamic range or take away harsh shadows. My only advise is to do what you like best and to keep in mind that your main object in the shot is most important. This article was just a reminder of the diversity of your flash and you can apply as you like.
Thank you for reading and kind regards,