Embracing Strobe Lighting as a Natural Light Photographer

Embracing Strobe Lighting as a Natural Light Photographer

The only times my strobes see the light of day is when they are facing down onto the surface of the water from poolside for my underwater work. In the studio, the amount of natural light that fills the space has created a look and signature feel to my images. However, I started to wonder if I was just taking advantage of this light and not truly challenging myself to the work that can be created using a strobe light.

Boudoir lighting for me, as a preference, has always been on the lighter airy side. Underwater is the opposite personality of myself that is dark and ethereal. The underwater realm allows me to work a more mysterious side of art using a set up of underwater strobes. Alongside this, I am connected to a 15-foot sync cord to the surface where my encased triggers connect to my land strobes (more information on this set up can be found in a previous article on the water wizards). Shaping the client with light is necessary underwater due to the color absorption especially in the reds. Using the above water strobes allows for the spread of light across each side of my subject, bringing those colors back to life. Underwater the attached Ikelite strobe allows for fill on the models face. In some instances, extra continuous flashlights (designed to be underwater) will be placed on points of her dress to allow for highlights.

When I shoot underwater strobe lighting made perfect sense to me in how I could shape the subject. However, on land, this concept seemed to be lost for my boudoir work. I never liked the outcome of my own work as it looked more on the fashion than the boudoir side. However thinking back to all the times I attempted strobe lighting in my studio I can guarantee I just did not play long enough with the options to truly see the benefits of using them.

This past weekend I hosted Nino Batista in my Palatka, Florida studio for his boudoir and beach lighting workshop along with model Maisa Kehl. I am a firm believer that you should learn from those opposite your own style in order to see new things you may not have encountered before that you can then apply to your own work. This proved to be true when during the workshop I saw the biggest issues I was having was the placement of the light. It was a huge smack in the face of "How did I not see this before" moment. While underwater I knew my placements well, on land I was too close creating a look I was not fond of. Batista moved the studio around in a way that created a more boudoir flattering look without the glam influence for me. This was the ah-ha moment and changed all I thought I disliked in strobe lighting for boudoir. My studio is an open area with large windows wrapping around the front and side. The ceilings and most walls are white as well. Basically, I was spoiled by all this natural light and quite frankly who wouldn't be? Adding strobes has now given a new look for my clients to add to their albums.

Natural light allowed for light and feminine images but restricted me to the front portion of the studio during certain hours.

Adding strobes into the studio now gives me the option to change the looks as well as shooting past sunset.

Same set up but moved the light up about a foot to allow for her face to be filled when she stood up off the couch.

When shooting underwater the light is diffused quicker than it is on land and will spread differently since your subject is usually ascending during the shots. In never truly learning strobes on land, the majority of my work was underwater which was backward from most everyone else. In the studio, I always came across the issue of unwanted shadowing creating the look of strobe work. This is where Batista helped to remind me that strobes are not about making the shot look intentionally filled with light but rather to make the light look as natural as possible. "To me, using strobes for boudoir looks is about making the light look as 'invisible' as possible, that is, try to benefit from the light modeling that a strobe affords you in mixed light, but try to avoid getting that 'overly lit' look. Remember, you shouldn't light to just 'add light,' but instead to 'light shape' Batista wrote. "If the strobes don't benefit the shot, go natural light. If adding one or more strobes gives you the shaping and dynamics you want, then you're good to go, but try to make it as seamless as possible for boudoir."

This behind the scenes image, by fellow Fstoppers writer Alex Ventura, shows a simple bed set up with two lights onto the model. This was around 6:00 PM, so all natural light from outside was fading.

BTS Image courtesy and with permission of Alex Ventura

The next day I applied these techniques in order to give more depth even when shooting a mixture of strobe and natural light from the window. The ability now to give my clients both looks adds more options to their albums. While before the mood was changed with wardrobe and posing, now the images can also take on a new look without being too far off my signature style.

Model Maisa Kehl

Same set up with a small adjustment in the lights in order to follow her movement.

In the end, this workshop was the best thing for the studio. The ability to add a different look to the darker sultry section of the boudoir as well as filling in light in a new way for the lighter side will give more options for the reveal. Strobe work does not have to be all about high fashion looks but rather to shape. Exploring new techniques to enhance your work is fun and necessary to continually evolving your business.

Jennifer Tallerico's picture

JT is known throughout the International Boudoir Photography Industry and the region for her unique approach to Fine Art Photography. Her underwater work as JT Aqua is ethereal based and conceptual. She is an educator, writer and currently teaching workshops for underwater and boudoir.

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Couldn’t get through the intro paragraph:

“However, I started to wonder if I was just taken advantage of this light and not truly challenging myself to the work that can be created using a strobe light.”

FS, when will you hire a copy editor? This isn’t necessarily Jennifer’s fault (it’s the editor’s responsibility), but it distracts from her expertise, and makes the whole site seem amateurish.

We don't know if their business model would allow for such an expenditure. In any case, it is always in an individual's interest to improve their communication skills, both written and verbal.
Having said that, the purpose of language is to communicate. Did you not understand what she meant? If so, it might be in your interest to get past such foibles so as not to miss useful and/or interesting information. But then, I have a difficult time with a few of the videos posted here and elsewhere so I should probably work on that. :-)


We do have editors. Sometimes things still slip through, it happens. Thanks for keeping an eye out and helping us be our best! If you happen to catch something, like this, in the future, you can always send a message directly to the writer here on Fstoppers and let them know what you're seeing. :)


This happens on virtually every article you post. And I'm not singling you out; Petapixel and SLRLounge are both worse. (I've stopped reading the latter completely.) I've actually responded to your open calls for writers in the past, and offered to copyedit for you. I never got a reply.

Let me fix that for you:

If I'm not shooting underwater, my strobes stay where they belong - in the garage next to the washing machine.

I've shooting boudoir for 8 years, and natural light is all I've ever needed to keep my clients satisfied... and their husbands VERY satisfied.

At least, that's what I thought until last week.

I started wondering if calling myself a "natural light photographer" was limiting me.

I have a gorgeous day light studio, where which helps me create images with a soft, signature glow.

But that gorgeous day light studio was turning into a gorgeous daylight prison... creatively at least.

I felt limited.

I could only shoot at certain times of day, and I was stuck at using certain angles.

So to hell with it.

I stomped into the garage, grabbed the strobes, and...

Nicely done.

If you are new to lighting (strobe, Tungsten, LED) it will take a while to "get it" and recreate or find your signature style.

Everyone has a preference, sure I default to more strobes than natural lighting. It’s choosing the right tools for each shoot to help tell the story/concept you hope to convey.

I’d recommend for anyone using strobes to use a light meter-it definitely saves time than endless test shots and going back to my monitor. When using over 5 to 6 strobes it sure saves a lot of my sanity.

Lately for me, I’ve been doing more of a natural look with my strobes and modifiers, definitely a bit more challenging for how I usually default to lighting

More important question
Jennifer where did you get that incredible couch and furniture ? I would love to find pieces like that

I live in a historic district where there are many estate sales. This one came from a local photographer who bought it from one of those sales.