There are plenty of reasons you may want to blend natural light with flash. I know I rarely shoot with more than one strobe on location so the ambient light often acts as a fill light or rim light. Regardless of your reason to do so, knowing how to easily achieve this is extremely important. Check out this video where I explain my process for balancing strobes with natural light on location.
Over the past few months I have had the privilege of creating some educational content for Paul C. Buff. If you aren’t familiar with this brand, be sure to check them out for some really high quality lights and accessories that aren't going to break the bank. I’m excited for the future of the “Buff Basics” program and in the first episode I talk about my method for balancing natural light with strobes on location. One thing that I really love about the Buff lights is that they are extremely compact and you can use them just as easily on location as you can in studio.
In order for me to power my strobes on location, where there wasn't any power outlets, I used a nifty little accessory called a Vagabond Mini which is the smallest and most compact power inverter in a small line that Paul C. Buff produces. I personally don't need anything bigger than the Vagabond Mini because I only ever shoot with one or two lights while on location.
Now that I've got my strobes out on location, it’s time to get shooting. One thing to remember when shooting with strobes outdoors is that you’re actually shooting with two separate exposures. The first being the ambient light, and the second is the flash. You always want to set the exposure for the background first. This will set the mood for the scene. The camera I was shooting with was a Sony a7 II which has a flash sync speed of 1/200s so I set my shutter speed there and didn't mess with that anymore. I had my ISO at 100 and I adjusted my aperture to get a desirable exposure for my background.
Once I set my background exposure, I brought in my flash. To get the correct flash output, you can either use a light meter or you can just set your flash to a power that you think will be appropriate, take a test shot, and adjust your flash up or down from there. In my case, I did the latter and was able to quickly adjust my flash to get the correct exposure either on the next frame or the one following that. In my opinion, there’s nothing wrong with taking a few test shots to make sure you get the shot perfect, just be sure not to get into the habit of looking at the back of the camera after every shot.
Take a look at the images below to see the shots with and without flash, and the camera setting I used for each image.
One thing to keep in mind with the Paul C. Buff strobes is that they do not support HSS (high-speed sync). However that doesn't mean that you can't shoot shoot with an open aperture. You'll just need to invest in a good ND filter to cut down the ambient light and allow your camera to stay at or under sync speed, without overexposing your image. Below is an image where I shot wide open at f/1.4 and was still able to keep my shutter speed at 1/200s.
After reading this, you probably noticed that I didn't include the flash power settings for any of the example images. The reason I left that information out is because there are a ton of different variables that can affect the flash exposure, such as distance to your subject, the amount of diffusion material on your modifier, and whether or not your shooting through a modifier, or bouncing the light off the inside of your modifier. Point being, your image should look how you want it to look, so there's no reason for me to put something as arbitrary as flash power in the description of each image.
- Paul C. Buff DigiBee 400
- Paul C. Buff Vagabond Mini Lithium
- Paul C. Buff 35" Octabox
- Paul C. Buff 10' Air Cushioned Stand
- Paul C. Buff CyberSync™ Trigger Transmitter 2
- Paul C. Buff CyberSync™ Transceiver
- Sony a7 II
- Rokinon AF 50mm f/1.4
Model: Lindsay Carver