off-camera flash with speedlites

flash photography: applying the Sunny 16 rule and the flash Guide Number

In essence, if you know the GN of your flash, then you could use (bare) off-camera flash to match the sunlight, without even metering!

There is a super-useful shortcut built into those two simple values: Sunny 16, and the Guide Number.

Now, I am pretty sure that when you hear mention of the Guide Number of a flash, you’re most likely switching off already, thinking that it is just an arcane list of numbers – different apertures against different power settings. But hang in there – this is very useful stuff to have a grip on.

And yes, since: GN  =  distance  *  f-stop
that is what the Guide Number tells you – the distance multiplied by the aperture is the GN.

But there is something immediately useful there in the Guide Number, which is hugely important. If you understand this, then you have an important key in your pocket about how to quickly match bright sunlight with your speedlight. It’s really simple:

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photographing in bright sunlight – find the shade!

Hard sunlight must be one of the most difficult lighting scenarios to work under. But with a bit of thought, we can work around it and still easily get photos that look great. It’s a topic that we’ve touched on a number of times on the Tangents blog, (see related articles at the end here). Where I can though, the simplest approach for me though, is where I can, is to just not deal with the hard sunlight. I find shade.

This maternity portrait session of Amy was taken on a bright day, and I wanted to avoid her squinting in the bright light, and I also wanted to avoid dealing with hard shadows and light across her face. I much more prefer clean open light. It’s more flattering.

I posed her in the shade of a tree trunk. That slender bit of shadow is enough to avoid hard light.

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off-camera flash for dramatic light

During this engagement photo session with a couple, Ashley and Michael, we roamed around the campus grounds of the university where they had met. In the one part of the grounds, there was this clump of trees, planted in a small rectangle with two seats. Since it was so dark there under the trees, they wondered who’d ever go and sit there. It just didn’t look appetizing. Then I though … hmmm, with some off-camera flash from behind, we can really make this place look like something.

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