Exposing for the Ambient Light and Then Adding a Flash

Using flashes with ambient light can be tricky, whether you're fighting with the midday sun or you're trying to balance ambient light. In this behind-the-scenes video, you get a breakdown of how one photographer exposes for the ambient light and then layers in a strobe.

There are many "natural light" photographers out there, and while some of them choose to shoot that way, many are likely simply not confident using strobes in a way that doesn't overpower an image. When I first started photography, I saw flashguns as tools to create those unrealistic, bright subject images that didn't have a hint of ambient light. Although this is occasionally a stylistic choice, this isn't a necessary effect of strobe lighting; I'd argue it's generally an example of poor lighting ability from the photographer.

Balancing strobe light with natural light doesn't have to be complicated. You don't have to have algorithms or apps to figure it out, you can simply do what a lot of cinematographers do for their scenes: layer the lighting. Firstly, as Neil van Niekerk does in this video, expose for the scene to a level you like it. Then, add in your key light and get that to a level where it fits into the scene. Finally, you can add rim lights, practicals, or any other additional lighting to flesh out the look if you so desire.

How do you use flash photography in ambient scenes?

Robert K Baggs's picture

Robert K Baggs is a professional portrait and commercial photographer, educator, and consultant from England. Robert has a First-Class degree in Philosophy and a Master's by Research. In 2015 Robert's work on plagiarism in photography was published as part of several universities' photography degree syllabuses.

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