How to Mix Flash and Ambient Lighting to Create More Dramatic Photographs

Shooting natural light can be great, but the beauty of flash is the control you have over the power and shape of the light. Sometimes though, a combination of the two is best, and this excellent tutorial will show you exactly how to effectively mix them for a dramatic portrait. 

Coming to you from Gavin Hoey of Adorama TV, this great video follows him as he shoots a location portrait. The idea for the shoot is pretty great, as it involves a model wearing a long flowing dress among similarly flowing grass, but as you can see early on, the portrait with just ambient light is a bit flat. There's not necessarily anything wrong with that, and a lot of photographers love to shoot with flat, natural light, then shape it in post, but it doesn't really match the look Hoey was going for. On the other hand, completely overpowering the ambient light with the flash would leave a lot of the background unlit and kind of ruin the point of shooting the portrait on location; thus, Hoey opts for a balanced mixture of the two and gets exactly what he wants: a dramatic shot that shows off the location. Give the video above a watch to see how it's done.

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Robert Nurse's picture

This is something I'm trying to get into a lot more than solely studio work. I find it much more interesting.

David Penner's picture

I find it's more casual which is always nice. Just finding natural light to work with is better still as long as you scout out locations first (assuming you are getting paid and aren't super awkward)

Douglas Turney's picture

Some of my work from a few years ago. Use a gelled flash to mimic the setting sun.

Vincent Alongi's picture

I wouldn't call my shot overly dramatic, but a flash added to a golden hour shot for fill and to eliminate unwanted shadow.

On the video and concept overall, I think some bold color wardrobe and the look of flowing fabric (wind/breeze) will hit a home run like he has here. Something to think about as I delve more into this.

Luke Adams's picture

While I appreciated the tutorial, that kind of look he achieved is what has turned me off to flash unless I think it’s necessary. Subtler enhancements can be achieved, but that unnatural dark sky with a spotlight on the model look is one I’ve never liked. Photos can certainly be made better with flash, but they also can be completely ruined. So, unless it’s necessary, or I have the luxury of time and a patient model, I use choose to err on the side of caution. I would rather enhance the image in post than risk ruining it with a flash.

I agree with you in that I also think the background or ambient exposure was too dark. I woul have liked Gavan to drop the shutter speed from 250/sec to 125/sec. I think the balance would have been better.

However, the video does a great job of demystifying shooting flash with available light, which I think was the point of the video.