- Creative Flash Photography: Great Lighting with Small Flashes: 40 Flash Workshops
- Sketching Light: An Illustrated Tour of the Possibilities of Flash
- Understanding Flash Photography: How to Shoot Great Photographs Using Electronic Flash
Lighting is probably the most complicated part of learning the technical side of photography. It takes the longest to learn and unlike basic stuff like exposure and composition, lighting is something you still learn years after becoming a serious amateur or even a pro.
There’s been a huge trend of shooting with natural light for some years now, mainly because cameras have gotten so good you can use them in places with very little light and still get amazing shots. I believe a good photographer should be skilled enough to choose the correct type of lighting for each particular situation. That means knowing how to shoot with a studio setup, knowing how to use ambient light to its full potential and knowing how to balance sunlight with flashes. Of the three major skills, the last one is the hardest in my book.
Some of you are probably wondering what the point is of using two very different light sources when you can theoretically get the job done using sunlight and one or more reflectors. While that might be true, it’s all about the complexity of the shot and how dramatic you want things to look.
Check out some famous portfolios for inspiration. If you take a look at Annie Leibovitz’s outdoor portraits, they look almost surreal. That’s because somebody’s doing a fantastic job of balancing natural and artificial light.
It is a fantastic technique for creating powerful visual impact and getting that “wow” from your audience or your client. It’s also a lot more fun to edit shots that were taken using both types of lighting.
First and foremost, you need to assess the situation. How powerful is the light coming from the sun and what direction is it coming from in relationship to your subject? If I had to name one rule for balancing sunlight with flashes it would be to match the type of light. If you’re shooting in midday sun when the light and the shadows are really hard, you’re going to need strobes that overpower the sun. It’s generally not the kind of work you can do with a single Speedlight, so consider renting if you don’t own studio flashes. Also, a trick for giving smaller flashes more power is to move them as close as possible to the subject. Depending on the kind of look you want, you can either shoot “naked” without any modifiers on the strobes, or you can go for something like a mid-sized softbox.
Things change completely when you’re shooting on a cloudy day. If you’re not going for hard light intentionally, which in all fairness can be a good choice, you will need modifiers for all your strobes, and the bigger the better. To sum it up, if the sunlight is hard use hard lights on your strobes. If it’s soft, resist the temptation of shooting all natural and use one or two flashes with a large modifier. You’ll fall in love with the results, I guarantee it.
This is an unwritten rule that can obviously be broken once you gain enough experience.
From an exposure point of view, when shooting with strobes I always recommend using the lowest ISO, especially since there will be plenty of light. Try not to use an aperture lower than f/16 because most lenses tend to lose detail once you go past that value. If you’re still getting overexposed shots, I recommend using a ND filter to darken things.
Here’s a great video tutorial on how to balance sunlight with strobes from The Slanted Lens.
Learn more about shooting with strobes from these recommended books: