Have you taken flash photos of your cat? If you are like me, it has always been a big disappointment with red eyes and washed out colour. How do you take better flash photos?
Let me share an idea for using flash that can actually make your photos look better. It’s called ‘fill flash’ and I know it can help you look at your photos in a new way.
DEFINITION: Fill flash is a photographic technique used to brighten deep shadow areas, typically outdoors on sunny days, although the technique is useful any time the background is significantly brighter than the subject of the photograph, particularly for backlit subjects.Wikipedia
Have you ever taken portraits like this?
This is Natasha and she looks terrible. She is a fuzzy dark blob against a bright sky. New Zealand light is exceptionally strong but that’s no excuse for this poor attempt at a photo. How can you avoid this kind of a disappointment?
Fill Flash to the Rescue
I included the Wikipedia definition of fill flash because it points out an important thing your flash does. It can be a big help if you are outside. ‘Brightening deep shadows … outdoors‘. If you are like me your first thought is, flash outdoors? Surely flash is for inside where it’s darker?
With the Wikipedia definition in mind, I decided to try using my built-in flash for some experiments with Natasha out in the garden where it was an overcast day. For my Canon camera, this prompted the flash to pop up. If the flash doesn’t pop up for you, there may be a lightning bolt icon on a button that lets you manually activate the flash.
Natasha was not bothered by the brief flash of light, as you can see. I believe that the built-in flash is not very strong and a cat outside will not be as distracted by it as it would indoors.
Compared to the first photograph, the later images are much more successful and show a lot more detail. Natasha is used to the noise of the camera and she was more interested in listening to a dog barking in a nearby garden. She can be the perfect model (sometimes).
Where is Your Own Fill Flash?
If you look at this sample DLSR camera you will see a raised area above the lens, the flash will pop up here. Built in flashes are usually small, approx. 2.5 cms (1 inch) wide, so perfect for that shady cat picture.
NOTE: A compact camera or a smartphone might have their fill flash in a different location. Please check your manual.
You can see how helpful the small built-in flash can be in these circumstances. If your pet is about a metre away (3 ft. approx.) and you are struggling with a few shadows a small flash can make a big difference and transform your shot.
Should I Use Fill Flash?
Yes. I encourage you to give it a try. It’s not as difficult as you might think. Take your cat into the garden, or a catio, and find an area of contrasting light and shade. Then practise using your own fill flash and let your pet become accustomed to the camera sounds and lights. Take your time and be patient and prepare to be surprised and amazed as your photos transform from ‘dark blobs’ to real cats that stand out gently from any background shade.
One Disadvantage of Fill Flash
Used inside or outside you can get the infamous ‘red eye’ or white reflections that give your pet a glazed appearance so position yourself carefully. Unless of course, the pair of you intend to go out red eye zombie hunting!
Marjorie is a motorbike riding blogger and award winning cat photographer who believes that everyone can shoot and edit wonderful pictures they love regardless of the camera they use.
She is a Professional member of the Cat Writers Association, Kuykendall Image Award winner and published photographer at the Guardian newspaper.