Fairy Tale Boat Photoshoot with Natural Light and Flash

All it takes to create a dreamy fairy tale photograph is a great location and a lovely subject. In this video you will see different ways you can photograph a beautiful girl in a boat.

Photographer Gavin Hoey has the great opportunity to shoot that type of image on location without any compositing. Having different tools in store, he shows how you can get a great portrait with only natural light, with a reflector to bounce the sunlight back, and with one or several strobes. He prefers to have the sun as a backlight which is easier on model's eyes and always looks good. Fortunately the interior of the boat is white which helps him capture well exposed images with only natural light.

Hoey also shows that sometimes there's nothing wrong with little overexposing the scene or letting some of the sun peak into the frame which lowers the contrast of the image and creates a more dreamy look. The photographer also uses the high-speed sync functionality of his strobes in order to shoot with a shallow depth of field but at the same time keep the background a bit darker. He shows there are situations where you have to sacrifice the high-speed sync cool look, because it has its limitations.

From what I saw in that video I can conclude that in order to create a beautiful photograph good lighting knowledge is not always enough. First and fore most you need the right location, the right model, and the appropriate accessories.

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18 Comments

Studio 403's picture

good post, informative, and honest.

jon snow's picture

That house roof in the background bothers me...

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

I've never noticed it.

William Howell's picture

I like Gavin Hoey, his tutorials are great fun and he’s an excellent presenter.

Yan Pekar's picture

Great video, quite informative. Some images look fake, to be honest. Why to make it look like there was a fog, when by the lighting you can see that it was shoot in mid day? Shooting in the early morning hours would probably give you better results without having to make it more complicated.

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

Keep in mind the following factors:
1) The video is by Adorama, who sell gear. High-noon photos are a great example of shooting with natural light without and with reflectors, as well as using flash (which is a selling pitch for the product);
2) It was windy. The pond was fairly large and the smoke machine — quite weak for these conditions. I'm sure they smoked the area up and fired more test shots than we see in the video. The real fog is not a smoke, but it's a haze. It's difficult to create uniform haze in the open, especially when there's wind, and yes, fog doesn't appear at high noon :)
3) There are different tastes for end results. I also prefer more realistic results no matter if 10 lights are used or one, but there are many photographers out there who prefer the other look.

Yan Pekar's picture

So, what was the objective of the video? To market products and make people sell it or to educate people on how to take better photos?? Very confusing when marketing articles are published as if it was an educational article. As for the "different tastes for end results - I don't know anyone who likes results that look fake.

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

As a company that has to make profit all their efforts are aimed to produce content that would attract people to buy the products they sell. The fact they are releasing content for free doesn't mean they have to do that all the time. They need to pay salaries and their bills too. I find it normal advertisers to try to sell people things through "free content." 20 years ago it would not be free at all. Today it looks like "it's free." It it were all free that wouldn't make any business sense at all. It can be free only if it's posted by people who make money in a different way. Whoever doesn't want to pay, they should be happy with what they get at no charge.

Ask yourself if you are going to do free photography tutorials for everyone at no charge writing countless blog posts, recording videos, and teaching people for free at your studio. Would you do that for free? Probably no. If that is so, such videos produced by others or by us as writers are showing much more generosity than expected.

Yan Pekar's picture

If I knew upfront that the objective of the article is to make people buy products, I would not have wasted my time to watch it. I think that the title or beginning of the article should have clearly said that it is a free marketing content rather than educational article. This way it would have saved a lot of time to many people and would have avoided confusion. Generosity is highly appreciated and is one thing, confusion is another thing.

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

Wasn't the video informative? It was.

Was it informative? It was.

Did it give free information on how to shoot a girl on a boat in a pond using natural light only, a reflector, and then one or two flashes and a smoke machine? Yes, it did.

Is that education? You say "No." The fact that these people are making business with that turns you away. Well, I asked you about the free photography courses you can teach everyone both in video, in your blog, and in person. If you don't do that, this video is way better.

Yan Pekar's picture

The issue was not that the video was not informative. My question was - why not focus on (and teaching people how to) creating results that look real rather than fake. Why make it (and show people how to) complicated (using fog machine, extra lights, etc. when it was not necessary) rather than teaching people a simple and less complicated solution? That was it.

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

"Not necessary" is a subjective judgment.

The way I would do it would be using more lights in a different placement in order to make it more natural and also I would not shoot with a fog machine at high noon, because fog and sun rays through it is usually seen in the morning. I like using fog and haze machines, but it's hard to do that in the open. Being a free video I doubt they would put their efforts for like one hour just to get the fog right.

More or less gear doesn't mean it will look more natural or more artificial. When I started in photography I was fascinated with that type of look that had just a "cool" factor. This is what captures the eyes of many beginner photographers, because the only thing they've tried was photographing with just a camera and no additional tools. Once they start experimenting with flash, their photos start to look "way cooler" until they get fed-up. Later they realize that the most complex lighting setup is the one that makes the final result look natural as if it wasn't lit with additional tools. Most camera brands do the same with their lights. They emphasize on the "cool factor," because this is the way their products' effect will be visible by the potential buyers. Selling lights brings more profit than selling reflectors. However, there are tutorials on making scenes look natural with lots of strobes. This is just not one of them and I'm sure Gavin Hoey is capable of doing both.

I've learned from Gregory Heisler that there are two types of lighting someone: a natural way (regardless of the fact strobes are used or not) and a cool-looking way. In this case we've got the latter.

Yan Pekar's picture

We keep talking about different things. It does not matter (from the end user or client's perspective) how many lights one can use to create a final result. It does not matter (from the end user or client's perspective) what gear was used. What matters is the final result. You don't really need multiple strobes to create a photo which looks like it was shoot with natural light (what is the reason for faking it, in the first place?). There is no need to over complicate things and spend hours on it. Many photographers get convinced that they need to invest in multiple strobes to achieve results, and they spend money and time on something which they could have achieved with less expensive gear / less time invested / less gear. Thank you for sharing your opinion. All the best.

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

There are shots that are more complex with reflectors (white, black, silver) and diffusers because of the grip tools that have to be used than using a few strobes. Sometimes you may need to make the subject a stop brighter than the environment and in this case you need extra tools (doesn't matter if they are shaping the available natural light or you use strobes). You can't make the strobes look from this video with "simple tools". You will need at least to double the sun light strength, diffuse it. Only for that you will need a scrim and several reflectors which can be more expensive than using a strobe. You don't like the strobe look, but you are fine with the natural light shot. That's OK, but in this video the presenter shows several techniques. If you liked just the first one, you simply stop the video there.

It's like a cooking workshop. Why would someone show how to make lasagne from scratch when you can avoid starving by making scrambled eggs and get bread from the supermarket? The answer: people like different kinds of food.

Yan Pekar's picture

Thanks for the "lesson". I do understand what you said, but you are clearly not able to (or not willing) to listen to my initial comment. There is no point in wasting time on the dispute. All the best.

Arun Hegden's picture

Thank you for sharing. His explanation is very informative and engaging 😀

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

Gavin Hoey always explains everything very thoroughly as William Howell said above.