Using a Flash to Add a Little Snap with Natural Light
I love natural light. It has a quality that is so unique and fits with my vision so well. Lots of terrific pics made with only the light that is there at the time. Learning to use natural light and make it work for you is one of the most important things that a photographer can do to improve their work.
I have shot natural light for many, many years. I have learned to use it, define it, control it and exploit it. It can be such a great main light, and working with some reflectors can add to the natural feel as well.
On this shoot I had decided to get back to my roots of shooting with lots of natural light and concentrating on the image, pose, attitude, expression and composition without adding lights. I think you will enjoy how the shoot came together.
Megan came along as well and shot with her speedlights. She has graciously let me use her images to show how two different approaches can work on the same shot.
Our first shot is one of Megan shooting the driver’s seat of a cool old 57 Chevy we found in Miami, Arizona. The owner was happy to let us hang all over it and make our images. I wanted to test the shot with Megan while Bri and Christina were being styled by Lisa. The car is in the shade of a two story building with the sun behind. The car was about 10-12 feet from the shadow line so there would be way less of the “up light” that can sometimes happen when the subject is right on a shadow line with a bright floor or ground. You can see where the car is in the shade here and you can also see where we had placed our strobes.
Here is the car with and without the strobe firing.
I wanted the natural light to be my main, but I also wanted a feeling of direct sun to be interjected into the image. For this I added a speedlight at a very low setting. Without the speedlight adding a bit of backlight, the image would have been one dimensional. All the light would have been coming in from the front and the image would have been a little flat possibly. Now, there would be times when that would be totally acceptable, but that is what I love about being able to create what I want when I want it. This time I wanted that kick of ‘sun’ to make the shot sparkle a bit.
As you can see, we added the speedlight to the back side of the car – passenger side – to throw the light back into the car and hit the back side of the models. This would give us a feeling of direct light which would contrast with the very soft main light – all natural – on the girls faces. The main light was the brightly lit buildings all around the scene as well as the bright open sky. The natural light exposure was f3.5 at 1/125 @ ISO 100.
That meant that I was OK within the flash sync of the camera. Since the f-stop was so open, I knew that the strobe couldn’t be too hot or it would blow out the interior of the car instead of adding the feel of sun. Dialing down the strobe to 1/32nd power was all I needed to add a wink of light for effect. That also meant that the recycle time would be minimal and I could shoot as fast as I would with the natural light.
Remember that even at 1/32 power, that little flash is capable of adding some significant light to a scene that is in the shade. When attempting these shots, start low and add if needed. We only want a feeling of light, not a blast of light.
Here is Megan’s shot using a speedlight for the main and keeping the ambient up for fill. Again, the speedlight is dialed way down to only interject a little punch to the image.
In this shot you can see how hi-tech my strobe mount is… LOL. Bungees and a clamp. Yep, only the best equipment on my shoots. In the back you see Megan’ very cool adjustable mount.
This shot is with Christina. I had the strobe aiming right at the side of her and it bounced all over the car and lit the side of her face and hair. The look has the feel of sunlight coming in the side window. Exposure is f3.5, 1/125 @ISO 100 and the strobe is set at 1/32nd.
Here is Megan’s shot of Christina in somewhat the same pose. Megan is using a speedlight for her main light and letting the ambient deliver the soft fill. Megan has a speedlight behind the passenger side window and one off camera to add the main. The power is way down to let the ambient fill in gently.
Here’s another crop of the shot by Megan of Christina in this set. Again you can see how the strobe lights blend with the ambient light for a subtle look, not at all ‘flashed’.
Briana was standing next to the car and I wanted to make the shot look like late day sunlight so I placed the speedlight on a stand a bit above Bri’s head and only a little out of frame. I didn’t change exposure on the camera, leaving it at the point of correct exposure for the natural light. I wanted the sunlight to be brighter than the ambient, not to lower the ambient. With the flash at 1/32nd power and at that distance it only added about 2/3 stop to the shot… that was all I needed to add the feeling of the sun as a main light. Briana’s pose with the hand over the eyes adds to the illusion.
In this shot of Briana, she is standing next to the car. I wanted the light to seem as if there were some sun to her right (camera left). Here you can see how the exposure for the ambient did not change, I only added the highlight with the strobe.
And this is the shot we did, with some post processing to make the image have an older feel. I did not try to make the highlight less ‘blown out’ as the look of this kind of shot calls for the blown out look.
I have been doing this lately as well. Here are some unedited images on a contact sheet. You can see how I work with the models within the space. First up is Christina in the drivers seat.
And here is Briana. I hope you appreciate letting you ‘under the curtain’ so to speak. It kinda feels funny to be showing people the work behind the work, but I think you may get something out of it.
In the contact sheet of Briana you can see how the flash adds light from inside of the car, but also how the ambient and reflected light from the bright buildings add hairlight to the camera left on her hair. Here is a final shot of Briana in this last set of images.
We headed toward a very cool old fence with Christina to do a second variation shot. In this image Megan is using a strobe for main light against the sun backlight while I am using only the available light bouncing around in the narrow little street. Behind me is bright sky and two story buildings with very light color. The street is a tiny two lane street so you can imagine how close they are.
The sun is enough south these days (mid September) to give us pretty good backlight. We stood Christina in front of the iron gate and each of us did headshots. Megan’s flash is again dialed way down to only add a wink of strobe to the already available light (see background density on both images).
First is Megan’s shot with a flash for main:
Next up is my shot with natural light for main. As you can see, both shots are lovely images. There is no right and wrong way to do these things, only the personal vision of the photographer and the look they have in their head.
Thanks for coming along on our roadtrip. We enjoyed having you. Watch for more images from this great day in upcoming issues.