Fill flash in strong backlighting

Toddster

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Let me start by saying that when it comes to flash photography I am currently very challenged. I have no desire to become a Strobist but I do realize I need to learn a few things to improve my technique when it comes to using flash for fill in a strongly backlit situation.

I grow orchids in Florida and like to document the blooms. Typically the background is very bright (full Florida sun) and the plants are in the shade. Naturally if I expose for the plant the background is very overexposed. Typically I deal with the situation using the on camera flash (Panasonic G85) bumped up a couple of stops and underexpose the overall scene a little. I’m now experimenting with using high speed sync with a Godox TT350o. I like the results that I get by significantly underexposing (I typically shoot in P mode if that matters at all) and using the Godex in TTL bumped up about two stops. The problem that I have is in composing the shot. With the scene so significantly underexposed I can’t see the subject that I am shooting.

I did some research on shooting fill flash with strong backlighting and did not find anything mentioning difficulty in seeing what you are shooting. I’m guessing that I’m missing some fundamental here. It does seem like in all the beautiful examples I have seen of backlit models someone would have mentioned you couldn’t see the model until you took the shot.

So my question is; what is the proper technique to use fill flash in a strongly backlit situation and is there a way to actually see what you are shooting?

Thanks in advance for any advice. Some examples of what I shoot:

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exakta

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Olympus bodies have a mode called "Live View Boost" that makes the EVF or display act like an optical VF ignoring any exposure compensation. It does not preview what the final shot will look like, but it keeps the finder from getting dark. This is useful when using flash while underexposing for the ambient light.

Do Panasonic bodies have a similar feature?
 

Toddster

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Do Panasonic bodies have a similar feature?
Not that I am aware of. If no one chimes in to tell me I'm wrong I'll dig into the manual and see if I can find something similar. Who knows what Panasonic may call it?
Thanks.
 

inkista

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... Who knows what Panasonic may call it?
I think Panasonic's name for exposure simulation is Constant Preview. It's in the Custom menu. If you're trying to lower or kill the ambient with flash you want to turn it OFF, so you can see what you're doing.

I would also recommend that, if you're inside, you consider learning to bounce the TT350 with a Black Foamie Thing flag. And, if you're outside without bounce surfaces around, you consider getting an Xpro-O, and using the TT350-O off-camera. Simply changing the direction of the light by holding the flash in your left hand as you shoot with your right can make a big difference. Having the light not coming straight from the lens position will give better shadows for depth cueing and detail.

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My mom's Epiphyllium, with fill flash from a bare YN-560 in my left hand. Shot with my 5DMkII and 24-105L with an RF-603II on the hotshoe.

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Ranunculus in the Carlsbad Flower fields. Panasonic G3 + 20/1.7. (iso 200, f/16, 1/160s), same YN-560 and RF-603 II combo used, YN-560 bare, held in left hand. Probably around 1/16th power or so. f/16 was used because the YN-560 is manual-only and doesn't do HSS (a TT350-O will, but might band on a Panasonic body), and the sync speed on the G3 was only 1/160s. (sigh).

Today, I'd probably use my XPro-O and TT685-C, so I could have TTL/HSS and not be stuck at freaking f/16. :)
 

Brownie

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I'm a pretty basic guy when it comes to this, but wouldn't it make sense to meter using a grey card, then do a couple of test shots for the fill? The gray card would get you pretty close, at least close enough that your subject should be visible, then just add enough flash to get the look you're after.
 

Mack

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We had a guy in the camera club who did backlit flowers by using some lightweight plastic mirrors from a plastics shop. He cut the plastic mirrors into 6"-8" squares and glued a copper wire (Stripped from some Romex cable.) to the backs of them as a bendable spike. He'd aim the sunlight onto the petals via the mirrors to light them up given the sun was behind the flowers. Sometimes he'd lay colored cellophane on them to boost their colors. He got some pretty nice shots from his mirror system and won a lot of ribbons.
 

ac12

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If you can move the orchids, one option is to move them out to the sun, where you can use reflectors.
My father used to shoot orchids with the plain blue sky as background, so no distractions. This was way back in the 50s.
Though all of the slides that I remember are dendrobium, I do not remember specific shots of cattleya. Though I remember him raising a lot of cattleya, so he must have shot them also. I wish I had kept some of those slides :(

My preference is to use a BLACK background, so that the colors of the orchid stands out more, and is not distorted by the background colors.
If you cannot move the plants, I would try to use a portable BLACK background.
 

Toddster

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I think Panasonic's name for exposure simulation is Constant Preview. It's in the Custom menu. If you're trying to lower or kill the ambient with flash you want to turn it OFF, so you can see what you're doing.
I don't think this is the same thing that @exakta is referring to on Olympus. I do have constant preview set to off but it has no impact on the viewfinder when using exposure compensation on any of the automatic modes. On or off the viewfinder dims as you apply exposure compensation. It does keep the viewfinder bright when using manual mode.

I appreciate all of the advice from everyone concerning improving the results. I probably should have been clearer in my OP that it not what I am after hear. I have a nice controlled setup when I want to take the time for real pictures to show off the plants. What I am doing here is quick daily snapshots, sometimes of dozens of plants that must be left in place just to document their bud and bloom development. Even though these aren't really intended to show anyone I am tired of the blown out backgrounds. The only way that I know to get a shot of the plant without blowing out the background is to go EV-4 on the camera and EV+3 on the flash. That combination results in satisfactory shot but a viewfinder that looks like this:
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I strongly suspect that there is a better way to get the camera to meter for the background and the flash expose for the subject and still SEE the subject in the viewfinder. I can easily get the exposure that I want I just can't see a darn thing while doing it. I know that there has to be a better (but still fast, simple and mobile) than what I am doing here.

Thanks to all.
Todd
 

Mack

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With flash you aren't going to see what the final image looks like until you review it.

I generally expose for the background first in Manual mode to get it dark, maybe -1 to -2 stops (I don't use P mode for flash either.). Then I'll add flash to bring up the foreground by dialing in the flash power needed. I still need to review the image as objects close to the subject may get lit too or cast shadows whereas distant ones stay dark.

Once you do it enough times it becomes automatic and you can measure off the flash distance and output strength. I put some Brother P-touch labels on my flash heads for the important stuff like using a 6-stop ND filter to drop the shutter speeds back down to the flash-sync speed and to blur out the background clutter along with the distances used.

Another you might try is the dodge-and-burn trick down in the Olympus forum here using the Olympus Livetime and build up the parts of the image you want manually without flash while holding back the background exposure. Takes practice though with a hole in a black card.

Good luck!
 
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I think you will need an external light, when trying macro I usually use the Panasonic FL360L included led light. It lights things enough to focus and look at the subject and don't interfere much with the actual flash exposure.

I'll try later with my G85, but I also think if you set constant preview to OFF and use center weigthed metering the viewfinder will try to expose for the orchid and show you the blown out background, independent from the exposure compensation set.

Also maybe try playing around in Manual other than Program mode because sometimes Panasonic cameras work differently between modes (example: on my GX7 live preview in manual mode has a 1/1000 limitation that doesn't exist in other modes)
 

Stanga

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I used the Panasonic FL360L in HSS mode, which allowed me to raise the camera shutter speed to get the background darker.
 

inkista

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I don't think this is the same thing that @exakta is referring to on Olympus. I do have constant preview set to off but it has no impact on the viewfinder when using exposure compensation on any of the automatic modes. On or off the viewfinder dims as you apply exposure compensation. It does keep the viewfinder bright when using manual mode.
Ah, my mistake. I always use M mode on the camera when doing off-camera flash.

....I strongly suspect that there is a better way to get the camera to meter for the background and the flash expose for the subject and still SEE the subject in the viewfinder. I can easily get the exposure that I want I just can't see a darn thing while doing it. ...
This is the problem with using flash. You have to previsualize, since the light from the strobe simply isn't in the scene to be seen/metered when you compose. It may be time to contemplate using continuous light, like an LED panel, instead of flash. The main issue here, though, is getting enough light output to underexpose the ambient like that.

Or maybe don't go for as high a ratio between ambient and flash, and only underexpose the ambient by a stop or so, and lower the power on the flash. :)
 

gwydionjhr

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... but I also think if you set constant preview to OFF and use center weigthed metering the viewfinder will try to expose for the orchid and show you the blown out background, independent from the exposure compensation set.
That sounds like the ticket, and just learn what exp compensation is necessary to dial in the actual background exposure you want.
 

Apollo T.

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@Toddster
I would use a suitably large piece of colored foamcore to create a plain background AND to obstruct the strong sunlight.
Another idea is to stop down all the way f22 shoot your flash TTL a bit above and to the left of the plant. Your background should goto ‘black’ while the blossom is properly lighted by the flash. Remember to keep some distance between subject andd background.
 
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Apollo T.

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@Toddster,
This you tube vid gives a good idea of what I had in mind.


I like this guy’s stuff-mostly- and have found I need to watch it a couple of times. Notte the set-up he’s using simulates a bright day that he overpowers with a simple flash to expoe the subject.
 

smartridertom

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Not sure if this will work but if you have no problem getting the correct exposure why not crank up the iso to get the composition and then return to the needed settings for the exposure?
 

Clint

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Get out of Professional (P) mode and change to Manual Mode, Constant Preview set to Off, flash set to manual at 1/2 power. with HSS on (Press the Sync button until you see the lightening bolt with an H show up on the LCD) . Set your aperture to establish the depth of field you want. Meter the scene and adjust the shutter speed to get a normal exposure of the background.

Then set your shutter speed 2-5 stops faster - e.g. shutter speed at 1/200 for normal exposure and then change 3 stops to 1/1600. Because of manual mode you should still be able to see your flowers easily.

Take a photo and review. Adjust your flash power to get the proper exposure on your flowers. Once you have what you like for the flowers you can then adjust your shutter speed to make the background lighter or darker. In essence the shutter speed controls the ambient light while aperture and flash power control pretty much only what you are lighting.
 
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