Overpower the Sun With Strobes When Photographing Your Next Engagement Session

Photographing an engagement session in a wide open field on a sunny day may seem like a portrait photographer’s nightmare. In this video, on-location lighting specialist Zach Gray touches on a few quick tips for incorporating strobe lighting when photographing a couple outdoors.

It’s common for photographers have a “mental block” when it comes to using off-camera flash. Portable strobe lighting can look intimidating and cumbersome, but is actually quite simple to use well enough to generate impressive results. In this video, Gray varies the focal length to either create a wide and sweeping view or to give the mountains a greater presence in the composition. He uses two strobes and demonstrates popular techniques for lighting men and women differently, to produce environmental portraits that are either more edgy or more evenly lit. He shows that the simple act of lying on the ground to shoot a couple from a low angle is another easy way to create variety with your portraits. 

A portable lighting system might not be something that a wedding photographer would want to bring to every engagement session. But for the right location and for the right clients, having this additional tool at your disposal is a great way to make your photos stand out.

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Jason Pietroski's picture

Nice share, any idea what stop ND he's using? Didn't hear him mention in the video.

Wayne Denny's picture

In the youtube comments, it says 3 stop filter.

Ryan Cooper's picture

It isn't a huge deal specifically how strong of an ND you use as long as it is dark enough to bring the exposure down so you can shoot at 1/200th.

Personally, I prefer to use HSS to avoid the need for an ND for this sort of shot. Both work but its a nice alternative.

Jordan Pinder's picture

He was also shooting at a fairly wide aperture (f/5) - he could have just used f18 or something like that and ditched the filter, since he didn't seem concerned with keeping the background out of focus.

And have to bump his flash power by more than 4 stops and kill his recycling times...

Or not. I'll have one more coffee i guess...


Jared Wolfe's picture

No. The ND blocks both natural light and light from the flash. So he is already effectively shooting his strobes 3 stops brighter than the aperture implies. He could take off the 3-stop ND. Stop down the aperture 3 stops and not touch the power of his strobes at all.

Leigh Smith's picture

Not if he removed the ND. ND or aperture will both kill the light. ND will allow a shallower DOF though.

David Moss's picture

Agreed - Much prefer HSS

Chris Ingram's picture

Or High-Sync...seeing he's using Elinchrom gear...he could probably just buy the new HS Skyport trigger, which is compatible with a lot of the older heads (to varying degrees).

I really don't like this look. I do almost no strobe work so take this with that in mind. I think instead of overpowering the sun these images may be better by just competing with it. Looks very unnatural.

Chris Ingram's picture

To each his own. I also prefer a more natural balance between ambient and artificial light than he's doing here. He often works on a 3:1 or even 4:1 artificial to ambient ratio, having watched much of his other content. In some settings that works really well, and many clients are wowed by what you can create "in camera" with that type of lighting on location. I do a bit of work with a wedding photographer who shoots almost all their bridal portraits on location with an Einstein and beauty dish, for very dramatic results. It is a signature look for them, and there aren't many people doing it here...so it makes business sense. If that's not a look that you like as a client, then you book someone else. Easy.

Is it just me who cannot stand Zach and Jody Gray?

Christopher Cooke's picture

no I am not a fan of theirs as well. They are too over the top EXCITED about everything. I get loving what you do but they come off as fake.
I watched one of their first Creative Live series and I had to stop because I couldnt stand Zach saying "rockstar" "sooo awesome" "you rock" ALL THE TIME!
They are good enough photographers but I find their personalities to be way too much for me.

David Stephen Kalonick's picture

I try to live a judge free life, but I agree with you. They put me to the test every time I see their videos. That hair, that facial nub, 3-4 assistants?! lol

This is cool, but requires too much work for a typical session. Who charges enough to have 2 assistants on site to manipulate multiple powerful strobes? Yeah probably zach.

Christian Berens's picture

lol at 2:42, i think that's brandon that does the westcott demos (atleast in STL) using a lightstand instead of the human lightstand

but that's a great video! I appreciate any BTS lighting video!

gabe s's picture

No sandbags on the light stand? I agree with some people here, in that the Gray group can be a little "rockstar" but this seemed a lot more toned down than some of the other videos.