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Using your Pentax camera's built in flash for fill flash

How to use the small built in flash for creative fill-in flash photography.

Posted: 28/10/2011 - 00:00

Unless it's a really old model, your Pentax SLR camera will have a built-in flash, housed in the camera's pentaprism. Most SLR users ignore this and tend to buy a more powerful hot shoe mounted gun if flash is their chosen illumination. You may be surprised, even though the guide number and power of that little integral flash is small it can be surprisingly useful for fill in and it doesn't just have to be used when shooting portraits.

I often use flash to inject some detail in the foreground when shooting landscapes or scenes. It can be used to lift some detail in a foreground object such as a flower or statue, but also to light an expanse such as this seascape where the foreground was a crustacean clad rock that just helped give some foreground interest to an otherwise distance scene.

scene without flash    scene with fill-in flash

Without flash the surface is dark and lacks detail, force the flash to fire and it adds a rich layer to the photo.

Be careful though - if you use the flash with a wide angle lens you may get a semi circular shadow of the lens in the bottom centre of a horizontal shot.

To use the flash just press the flash button to the side of the prism to force the flash to pop up. Then take the photo in shutter priority or manual mode. If you use program or aperture priority the shutter speed will automatically go to the correct flash sync speed which may be too fast for the daylight/brightness levels.

In the above example with the rock I used the flash on automatic, but you can override auto and have more control. I do so for another of my main flash uses – still lifes, demonstrated here on a dried rose.

rose - natural light    rose - fill flash full power

For close ups the flash can be really useful. This rose was positioned a metre away from a cream wall. The lighting was a window to the right. Notice how, on the natural no flash shot, the left side of the rose is in harsh shadow (above left). That's fine for creativity, but if you want a more balanced photo the built in flash can help.

But in this example (above right) it was too harsh and totally balances out the tones with a strong frontal light the flash produces. I still want to maintain some of that 3D shaping, aided by the shadow, so here's were you become more creative with the camera controls. On cameras such as the Pentax K20D you have a flash compensation option where you can increase or decrease the power of flash. In this case I want to decrease. If I set - 2 the strength of flash is reduced too much (below left), whereas -1 gives me the balance I desire (below right). Just a hint of shadows still showing to the left to give that all important shape.

rose - fill flash -1 stop    rose - fill flash -2 stops

The differences are subtle but important, and balancing flash is one of the best things you can learn.

To set exposure compensation on the K20D press the Fn button (with the flash in the raised position) and navigate to the flash control display using the rear controller wheel then adjust the rear exposure dial to go up or down the flash exposure scale and select the necessary compensation.

Have a play around with your camera's built in flash – I'm sure you will be surprised!

Posted 01/11/2011 - 14:47 Link
I do use the built in flash to fill in on some shots. On close up work and some other shots I have found it is important to remove the lens hood otherwise you could end up with a shadow on your photo.
Posted 01/11/2011 - 16:16 Link
Thanks a well balanced article and usefull keep up the good work.
Posted 05/11/2011 - 10:09 Link
Thank you, I found that helpful. I have always disliked using flash, possibly because I've never mastered the technique. I will now experiment, starting with your suggestions.

All the best,


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