Getting really nice, soft light on location can be a challenge. Too often photographers use their naked flashes for fill and end up with something more harsh than they expected. Using a flash to fill in ambient light can be far more subtle and rewarding.
For this shot of my daughter, I used a large white umbrella and a 430EZ flash with remote triggers. To the right side of her I used a bright fill card. Let’s examine how easy it is to get this clean, non flash look.
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I looked for a place where the sunlight was coming through the large park trees and giving me some dappled areas for Alissa to sit in. This keeps her out of the bright sunny areas which can cause too much fill coming up from the ground. Essentially she is in the shade with a little bit of sun on her shoulders and neck. This is a comfortable area for your model to sit in as well.
I did a quick meter of the sunlight falling on her head at 1/100 of a second. I choose that as a starting point whenever there is sunlight. My ISO is normally set to 100 as well. 1/100 also allows my flash to sync and I can go up a stop easily to 1/200 if I need to.
The meter gave me f5.6. I wanted the light to be a bit more ‘poppy’ so I settled on f5 (a 1/3 stop overexposure of the backlight) and got my flash ready.
I have pre-measured my flash and umbrella combination and knew that at 3 feet it would give me f5.6 at 1/8 power at ISO 100. I made sure it was zoomed to ’24mm’ which gives the widest coverage of the umbrella, and set the flash at 3 feet. Since I was shooting at f5, I simply moved it back6 inches and shot a test shot. Perfect. Pre-measuring your light can be quite a time saver. I would use string or cord for a few months, eventually you will become an expert at gaging the distance.
Below you can see a side by side comparison of the top of the head. note that they are practically the same. The exposure for the ambient is not affected by the strobe. I am only filling the shadow areas with light to bring the face up to exposure with the ambient.
I generally take a shot or two without the flash to make sure that the ambient and direct backlight are what I want to begin with. Here is a shot without the flash or fill card:
Here is the shot with the strobe in the umbrella and the fill card in close on the camera right side. You can see the umbrella and fill card in the eyes. I make sure that the eyes have a nice look to them by bringing in the sources and ‘opening’ the eyes instead of distant pinpoints of source light.
I have created a to scale setup diagram. You can see that the flash is close to 3 feet away. It is also tipped very slightly to fill the top of the head as well as the face. Slightly being the operative word here.
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