Metering for off-camera flash? – start with the ambient light!
In the tutorial on balancing flash with ambient light, various scenarios are listed in where we start with our camera settings. My advice is that we invariably have to start with the ambient light. That will anchor our decision to an extent, and will determine how the final image looks.
This photo is from a photography workshop I presented in Birmingham, UK in 2009. In the afternoon session we used softboxes with manual flash to photograph the two models. And yes, the models did indeed stop the pedestrian traffic.
Camera settings: 1/200th @ f4 @ 200 ISO
Camera settings were determined by how bright we wanted the background. Without flash, the models were completely under-exposed as you can see in this next photo without flash. This made it easy to light them with the softboxes to give proper exposure.
Direction & Quality of Light
I wanted to distill the essence of what we, as photographers, work with – light! Before we can truly grasp on-camera flash and off-camera flash, and really, any kind of photography, we have to be aware of the direction and quality of light. We need to observe the light that we have, and then decide how best to use it, or enhance it.
With this book, I try my best to share those “aha!” moments with you, and I do believe this book can make a difference to your photography.
The book is available on Amazon USA and Amazon UK, or can be ordered through Barnes & Nobles and other bookstores. The book is also available on the Apple iBook Store, as well as Amazon Kindle.
We purposely positioned them there in this pedestrian walkway between the shops. The camera settings were chosen so that our background exposed properly. Then we added manual flash in softboxes, and we metered for this to give us f4 @ 200 ISO, by using flashmeters and changing the power setting on the speedlights accordingly.
We used two softboxes, each with a Nikon SB-900 speedlight set to manual. We used one softbox to camera left, and one softbox behind them as a rim light. That background light was held up high, in about a 1 o’clock position to camera right .. juuust out of shot. (The flash behind them was the same power and distance as the main light.)
The background brightness did vary a fair amount as clouds moved in and out. So the background does appear a bit darker .. but that’s the beauty of using manual flash here .. it stays the same. We could of course compensate to an extent for the background brightness by changing our shutter speed – our only independent control for ambient light. Changing ISO and aperture for the ambient light, would also change the exposure for manual flash.
- Various scenarios: balancing flash with ambient light
- Tutorial – balancing flash and ambient
- Controlling bright daylight w/ direct off-camera flash (model: Molly K)
- Recap of previous photography workshops, with feedback from attendees.
18 Comments, Add Your Own
1tami curtis says
i attended this workshop. i immediately felt at ease when neil entered the room – he has such a warmth about him that i think everyone feels immediately.
i came in not knowing much about flash – for some reason this has always confused me and befuddled me. i picked up a lot of great knowledge and information that i hope to incorporate in my work as soon as possible – now all the books and dvd’s i have about lighting will make more sense.
neil forced me to learn, but in a good way – i have come out of this workshop much more confident and eager to learn more. i would have probably liked to have had more time with him, a two day workshop would have been even better (only because it takes me longer to absorb and process new info).
neil – i very much enjoyed your workshop, it was money well spent and i hope to show you some work using this new knowledge very soon!
p.s. your daughter is adorable!
2Mark S says
wOw first photo is aweesome
3Donna Blundell says
I’ve returned to look at this one image over and over. Your work is always solid, good and innovative….but there is something special about this I just like to come see it again.
Yes it’s a great picture. The focal point however is the second girl’s bottom. Great pose :)
5Keith House says
wow…….that correctly exposed shot is great…..like Donna says….I have looked at it several times………nice.
Quote: “And yes, the models did indeed stop the pedestrian traffic.”
I can see why (Den you are so right) very nice indeed! Hey! I mean the photo. :-D
7Neil vN says
Look at the lighting, dammitt! Look at the lighting!
Den and David – no comments!:P
To Neil – thank you very much for inviting me to your workshop. It was hard, long but great day! I really enjoyed it.
You are true master and great teacher:)
Quote: “Look at the lighting, dammitt! Look at the lighting!”
Lighting, what lighting? Hadn’t noticed any lighting, was bit distracted, oh that lighting! Yes lovely, really great lighting,
now back to business! There’s a mystery to solve, got too get to the bottom of what this photo is all about. :oD
I attended this workshop also and want to second Tami’s thoughts on it, it was a great day and I learned a lot. Most of the theory side of things had well and truly sunk in by reading you post over and over before but the workshop went beyond just theory, you gave us lots of insights into the way you work and some of the thoughts you have during shoots and this is invaluable. But I think what was most valuable to me was seeing that what I’ve been doing wasn’t wrongbut just needed refining to get the best out of the lighting and situation.
It was also great being able to work with profressional models, even if I did have to share them with everyone else! The models were great, easy to get along with and very professional – good choice.
Many thanks, Steve
Absolutely fantastic combination of Flash and available light. Thank you.
I do not have small softboxes, but I do have a pair of same power flashes and I am wondering; Do you have any samples using Flashes without softboxes? and is there a large different in results?
Michael .. I haven’t yet posted any examples of using off-camera speedlights directly on my subjects. I prefer softer light so I usually go with softboxes and other light modifiers like that.
But I’ll make a note of it to add future posts where I use flash like that – direct off-camera flash.
13Rene Skrodzki says
Since I cannot make it your workshops I have to settle on the book I guess. I hope that arrives on time, so I can learn quick :)
Actually I am really looking forward to it.
14Mohanpreet Singh says
Thanks for a great post again. Will greatly admire a little clarification on the following –
“Camera settings: 1/200th @ f4 @ 200 ISO … which were chosen so that our background exposed properly. Then we added manual flash in softboxes, and we metered for this to give us f4 @ 200 ISO, by using flashmeters and changing the power setting on the speeflights”
If Camera settings (1/200th, f4, ISO200) were already chosen , what readings did flashmeter give. Does flahsmeter tell about the power of flash to be adjusted. I am really trying to learn about using flashmeters. So it would help.
15Ben Hui says
Congratulation on another fabulous workshop session.
I think what Neil meant was to adjust the flash’s power until the flash meter read f4.
16Paul Kelly says
As another attendee of this workshop I can also vouch for the great day! I’ve been following Neil’s blog for some time and was VERY happy to see he was coming to the UK, to the point where I ended up travelling many thousands of miles (due to work) to ensure I made it!
Thanks again Neil, it was a cracking day!
Some of my shots from the day can be found here
I am curious, can results be achieved the same with white umbrella stands or is softbox “must have” ?
Sash … similar results can be achieved with an umbrella. A softbox gives you more control though. It gives a more focused swathe of light, and depending on how your softbox is baffled, the softbox can give you more light than an umbrella. You also have more control in how the light spills onto the background .. which is not a problem here though.
A softbox is also slightly easier to handle outdoors where you have wind. An umbrella really is at the mercy of the wind in how it sometimes scoops the wind.
Generally though, with wedding portraits, I tend to use umbrellas because they are faster to set up.