While recently taking some portrait shots at the beach, I was asked why I was using a flash even though there was plenty light. It was actually a very good question and one that even some "photographers" probably can't answer because they themselves don't even do it.
The simple answer is that it helps sharpen the subject. On the left is a shot with no flash. As you can see, there is plenty of light and the subject (Rebekah) can be clearly seen. The problem is that Rebekah is just sort of muddled and not very crisp. Also, her eyes are dark and lifeless.
The image to the right was shot seconds later but with "fill flash." Notice I said fill flash and not just flash. If I would have used a flash at full power, like people normally do when they select their flash or the camera does because it's in auto mode, Rebekah would be way too bright. By dialing down the flash, I was able to give just enough light to make Rebekah stand out crisply, without washing her out. Another benefit to using the flash is that it creates "catch lights" in the eyes which brings them to life, as well as to help brighten the whites of the eyes. I should point out that the image to the right was also edited. However, editing is not able to make a fuzzy subject suddenly sharp. The editing performed here were standard finishing touches and would be pointless on the image to the left.
You may wonder why I didn't just have Rebekah face the sun? It's true that facing the sun would lighten her face, but by doing so, it may have caused her to squint. Squinting is unacceptable for pro portraits. I would have also lost the beautiful setting sun in the background.
If you've had portraits done outside in decent light but the eyes are dark and the subjects are not nicely defined, chances are good that the photographer was not using fill flash. This is why it's important to choose a photographer that does the types of shots you want done. Every photographer has, or should have, a portfolio, highlighting their work. If you don't see your preferred types of shots, or the ones you see aren't very good, be very cautious in moving forward because yours will most likely not be any better.
Fill flash is just one example of how a Pro Photographer differs from the beginner. Simply buying a "nice camera" isn't enough. Even very expensive "pro level" rigs are worthless if not used properly. It's the person behind the lens that makes things happen :)
One of our specialties here at Matt Sweadner Photography is on location portrait shoots in various locations around our beautiful city and beaches. Popular portrait themes are: Newborn, children, family, engagement, maternity, individual, senior, business, etc.