Balancing flash with ambience

Welcome to the first lesson about speedlights. The previous week’s post was a mix of a casual and fast-set photo shoot with a quick setup description mostly concerning light and placement of strobes in space. This weeks lesson is more focused towards the education part and touches the topic of balancing flash with ambience.

It had planned on hitting the gym as soon as i finished work. Intentionally i didn’t set up my gym bag with the necessaries since i had decided i would return home, remove my job clothes and change to gym clothes, relax for a while and then head to the gym. Everything was going on plan up to the moment i sat on the couch (the relaxing part). It’s hot in Cyprus, we have no fall season per se, so i opened the front door since i was sweating like a pig and the leather couch definitely wasn’t helping. What immediately caught my eye was how nice the late day sun created shadows on the wall. The small plant complemented the scene and filled the frame. I immediately forgot about the gym etc, grabbed my camera and started taking pictures.

The most important thing to bear in mind before you take a picture is identifying what caught your attention in the first place, analyse it and then and only then frame it and capture it. What caught my attention was the light falloff on the wall as well as the warm colour of the scene. All else was basic composition.

I understand balancing flash with ambience as the process at which the flash intensity and colour blend with ambient light in such a way that one does not cancel each other out but rather coexist with one of the two, subtly, indicating the point of interest. In this scene, it was obvious that the ambient color temperature was warm so i had to warm up the speedlight burst with a full CTO gel.

I started off by taking pictures without the flash. I set the camera to Aperture priority mode and shot a few frames before deciding of the exposure. The exposure was set to -1EV at f/5.6. It was time to throw the flash to the equation. I initially setup the flash to 1/4 of its power through a 21″ softbox. This kind of nuked the scene and eliminated the sun hitting on the wall. Instead of powering down the speedlight, i opted out to step down my lens to f/7.1 which made the trick. I was now in balance with the ambience without my speedlight being too dominant.

In brief these are the steps for balancing flash with ambience:

  1. Take scene readings without the speedlight and decide on the final exposure.
  2. Make sure that in the final exposure you are within your camera’s sync speed with the flash, preferably close to 1/100 sec.
  3. Throw the flash in the equation. Start off with a moderate power, i.e. 1/8 and work your way up or down accordingly. Remember the flash only cares about the Aperture and not the shutter speed, so if you want more flash in the scene, open up your aperture. If you want less, close it down.
  4. If its just about balancing flash with ambience, make sure you dont overpower the sun with the flash burst nor you bleed too much ambience in your scene and eliminate flash. Both must exist. The flash light should indicate what is your point of interest.
  5. Capture, capture, capture. Experiment with different apertures. Its always good to have more than one picture of the scene, should you decide afterwards that you didn’t like a particular capture.


The plant

The plant