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4 steps every photographer should know to master strobe and sunlight

Today I’m out here with Chanda AM, and Chanda will help me illustrate how to balance ambient light with strobes. I love shooting in this situation with ambient light and strobe light. I want to be able to combine the ambient light here in this beautiful area with strobes. So the way I generally do this is:

First off, I set her up so that she has the sun coming from behind. I always like the sun from behind because it gives her a nice rim light on her hat and her shoulders. But I’m going to keep her in the shade pretty much. It’s just that little bit of rim light coming through gives us a little bit of highlights on her hair, on her back, and her hat. If I’m out in direct sun, I’ll throw up a translucent to make it look like she’s in the shade or just a plain reflector to get her out of the sun.

Step one: choose an aperture for creative reasons

How much depth of field do you want? Do you want a shallow depth of field, or do you want a deep depth of field? I want a shallow depth of field. I could choose a deep depth of field, but that’s not my creative purpose.

Right now, I want a shallow depth of field. So I’m going to go to f/5.0. I can make it shallower than that. But for me, I want enough depth field to keep her face and her head sharp. And I let the background fall out of focus, and 5.0 does that nicely on a 150mm lens (I used the Tamron SP 70-200mm f/2.8 Lens). So that’s the number one point, choose your aperture for creative reasons.

Step two: set the shutter at 1/200th of a second

The reason I choose 1/200th of a second is that it is going to get rid of the most amount of ambient possible in the scene without having to go to high-speed sync. So I’m at 1/200th of a second; I’ve chosen f/5.0 for creative reasons.

Step three: Match the power of the strobes to the aperture

(I am using the Westcott FJ400 Strobe and Westcott 2’x3′ Softbox). I’m going to dial the power up or down until I get the perfect amount of light on her face. I want the strobes to match the aperture. I don’t care about the ambient light. I don’t care how dark the image looks. I want the strobes to look right on her face.

So at f/5.0, I’m going to take an image here, 1/200th of a second, and just see what we got. Here the strobes are perfect. I’ve dialed them up and down, and I’ve made my adjustments on my strobe. I have that strobe in a nice position upfront here, the lighter face, I’ve tilted it up slightly. So I’ve got a vignette off from her shirt, but it’s too dark in the background.

Step four: start increasing the shutter until you like what you see in the background

So I’m going to go from 1/200th to 1/100th sec. Now the background is becoming brighter. I like what I’m seeing. I’m going to go to 1/50th sec. And now I’m getting some life into that background. I could even go, I think, to 1/30th sec. Yeah, I’ve got a beautiful background that she feels like she’s integrated with. The strobes don’t feel like they’re lighting it. It looks like it’s just the ambient glowing light in the scene, and it looks fabulous.

So there’s a simple formula:

1. Choose your aperture for creative reasons

1. Choose your aperture for creative reasons

2. Set your shutter at 1/200th of a second.

2. Set your shutter at 1/200th of a second.

3. Balance your strobe power, dial it up and down until it matches the aperture.

3. Balance your strobe power, dial it up and down until it matches the aperture.

4. Then start opening up that shutter until you like the background the way it looks. And that integrates those two together and then shoot away.

4. Then start opening up that shutter until you like the background the way it looks. And that integrates those two and then shoot away.

Now, if I start getting a hot spot in there, and I can see one right now. You can see just over her shoulders is a bright spot back there. I’m just going to move my camera a little bit; it doesn’t have to be very much. And I’m going to get rid of that hotspot.

So above are the two images without the strobes. You can see the difference. Just adding a little bit of strobe opens up the image and makes it look wonderful. I got there by first getting rid of as much of the ambient as I possibly could. Then I set my strobe to my aperture, and then I added the ambient until I like the look and shoot away.

Conclusion

About The Author

With more than two decades of experience, Jay P. Morgan brings to his commercial studio two special qualities: a keen appreciation of the bizarre and a knack for flawlessly executing elaborate shots. Through The Slanted Lens, Jay P. shares his knowledge about photography and videography. This article has been adapted from this post and is shared with permission.