How to Add Artificial Light to a Natural Light Scene

Adding artificial light to your natural light scene is a relatively simple technique that you can use to create an image that depicts the scene more dramatically than it appeared to your eyes when you were there.

There are several videos on YouTube that teach the process of adding strobe light to an outdoor scene, but some of these videos are dependent on your ability to use advanced camera features such as high-speed sync. Some videos teach a method that works with one specific trigger or strobe, and it may not be easy for you to translate the steps to your specific camera system.

In the video below, I use a Leica M10 paired with a Profoto B2 strobe, but I believe if you follow the steps I describe, you will be able to replicate the results using the camera and strobe combination of your choice, provided both have full manual control. Let’s imagine our scene is that of a person standing in direct sunlight. First, we will need to determine the correct exposure for this scene and lock in our ISO, shutter speed, and aperture settings, as these will not change when we add the artificial light. In my view, the term correct exposure is relative, and whatever looks good to my eyes is correct for the photograph I will create. For this reason, I never check my histogram. If the image looks good to my eyes, it does not matter to me whether or not pixel information is present in both the highlight and shadow areas of the photograph. When I add a strobe to an outdoor scene, I underexpose the ambient light scene by one half or even one full stop. Because I will add more light to the scene in the next step, I judge this dark scene as being correct, even though the histogram will show it as underexposed.

Once you have determined what you feel is the correct exposure for the scene, you can begin adding the strobe light to the image. Start by setting the strobe to its lowest power setting. Raise the power incrementally, taking a new photograph each time you increase the strobe power until the scene looks pleasing to your eyes. The final result should look similar to the ambient light image, but there should be a noticeable reduction in the shadows on your subject’s face since these are being filled in by the light of your strobe. The shadows that remain are under your control because you have the freedom to place your strobe in any position that is flattering to your subject.

Check the video for a detailed step-by-step guide through the process.

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John Ricard is a NYC based portrait photographer. You can find more of Ricard’s work on his Instagram. accounts, and

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