In this week's lighting breakdown, I'm going to explain why and how I used a flash outdoors during midday to create this fun, casual portrait.
There are many ways to use a flash outdoors, but this time I wanted to focus on something that felt natural and easy. This pretty location has been on my list to photograph for a while, so I already knew I wanted to take advantage of the open shade, but I also wanted to shoot at a wide aperture to get of all the bokeh from the sunlight filtering through the trees.
Because it was near midday, it was far too bright to shoot at f/1.4 without making some kind of adjustment, like using high-speed sync, to keep the highlights from blowing. In this case, I decided to use an ND filter and a slower shutter speed to allow the ambient light to creep in.
Rather than have the flash very close to the model, which could have given away the light source by creating a more drastic fall-off, I wanted to place the light far enough back that it would be very broad and light the entire foreground just enough for a proper exposure. I didn't want the image to look "flashy."
In the before and after, you'll see what the shot looked like with, and without flash.
The flash, a Canon 580EX II fired through a Westcott Rapid Box, was situated as high as the light stand allowed and angled down toward the model in a manner similar to the natural sunlight. I would have preferred to place the light on the other side of the stream, but the steep bank on that side made that too risky to try without an assistant.
After taking the shots, I checked to make sure the highlights were intact. I wanted to capture the image as close to natural as possible and retain that dynamic range as far as my equipment allowed.
I know some people might prefer to just underexpose and then compensate in post, but I prefer my images to be as close to finished as possible before I import them. Masking, worrying about artifacts in shadows that have been lightened, or having to spend too much time dodging and burning to enhance the light is something I'd rather not do if I don't have to. Because I wanted these photos to be all about the light when I shared them here, the edits were kept to cleaning up a few blemishes and warming up the tones to account for all the green reflected light.
I hope you're getting something out of this new series, and I'd love to hear whether you use setups like the ones shared in the “The Lighting Breakdown.”