Balancing Flash With Ambient Light Indoors

By | 12/10/2022

Using flash in photography is oft a source of swell defoliation. I’m going to effort and simplify information technology downward to the bare bones, so that if y’all’ve never used flash or take been a flake intimidated past it in the by, hopefully yous tin can brand enough sense of it to give it a become.

The “they say” dominion of pollex for flash exposure

Stating that:

Flash exposure is directly controlled past aperture and your ambience exposure is directly controlled by your shutter speed

Is a generalization and there are exceptions to that rule,

but for now I’g going to proceed data engineering simple and commencement in that location.

I find the easiest manner to empathise how this works is to run across it in action using dissimilar settings with the aforementioned bailiwick and then you tin can come across how adjusting the settings change the resulting image.

If you want to follow along notice yourself a subject and set upwards a scenario where y’all tin can try out some wink photography.

Pace #one AMBIENT Light Only

Before you add whatever flash, have ane photograph using only the calorie-free that is naturally occurring in the scene.

That could be sunlight, window-low-cal, or even indoor human-fabricated lights such equally fluorescent or tungsten.

Yous’ll sometimes see natural light referred to as “ambience” which is actually more accurate, just the two terms are often interchanged. Have information technology just to hateful the light occurring in the scene that you cannot control, it’s already at that place.

Note: the case photographs were taken during my recent workshop in Drumheller of Bob, an ex-miner. Bob was kind enough to pose for us at the coal mine where nosotros did part of the workshop. The room nosotros were in is quite dark with but a few pocket-sized windows behind the camera.

Then the kickoff affair I did was to accept a “base exposure” using merely the ambient low-cal as described above.

This is the result. Annotation the exposure information below in the paradigm caption.

base exposure using ambient light iso400 f4.5
ISO 400, f4.v for ane/eighth of a 2nd using a 32mm lens (on a total frame Catechism)

After reviewing the paradigm I decided the lighting from the windows wasn’t all that bad, just I idea information applied science could be better.

I notice the light on Bob is a bit flat, as it’southward coming from ii windows on either side of me, behind camera.

What that does when the lite falls on the discipline from the camera angle is it makes the bailiwick expect overly apartment, with footling dimension and texture. And then I decided to add together in two flashes set up upward off camera.

Stride #ii Add together Wink

I use a gear up of remotes that practise not use TTL (through the lens) technology which means they burn the flashes simply exercise non communicate whatsoever of the exposure information back to the camera.

Why you lot may enquire?

The answer is elementary – I could get remotes that work with TTL but they are nearly $250 per unit and yous demand i on the photographic camera (sender) and i on each flash (receivers) so for $750 I could exercise that. However, the fix I use is most $99 or less so went through route and merely employ the flashes in transmission power mode.

It’south really quite simple to use even though information technology seems harder.

  1. Gear upward your photographic camera
  2. Fix your flash
  3. Burn a exam shot
  4. If the image is besides brilliant decline the power on the flash, motion it further away from the subject area, OR utilize a smaller aperture
  5. If the paradigm is besides night turn upward the ability on the wink, motility it closer, or use a bigger aperture.

So in this respect, this is oft why you volition hear that the aperture controls the flash exposure.

Hither is a lighting diagram showing how I fix my two flashes off camera.

Note: please keep in mind you don’t have to break the depository financial establishment to purchase a couple flashes and a fix of remote flash triggers!
I accept used all of the post-obit brands and can recommend them: Catechism speedlites, Yongnuo remotes/triggers, Godox remotes and flashes, Nikon speedlights.

I’ve put together an entire collection of affordable flash options you lot tin browse.

My lighting set up showing the position of the two windows and where I placed my two flashes. The one on camera right was bounced into an umbrella.
My lighting ready upward showing the position of the two windows and where I placed my two flashes. The i on photographic camera right was bounced into an umbrella.

I positioned my flashes and adjusted the ability on each and then I was getting a good exposure at f4.5.

For this beginning image using flash I used the aforementioned exposure settings as the previous image using ambient calorie-free just. Note the background appears exactly the same. This is because the exposure hasn’t inverse and the flashes are not lighting information technology upwards.

first flash photograph using ISO 400, f4.5, 1/8th of a second using a 24mm lens (on a full frame Canon)
ISO 400 – f4.5 – 1/eighth of a second using a 24mm lens (on a full frame Catechism)

Discover the but thing that inverse was I used a slightly wider lens and moved in a lot closer to him.

I did that because I wanted to emphasize him a fleck more (things closer to the lens when using a broad bending look larger) just nonetheless see plenty of the room to run across the ceiling.

I also had him turn on the lamp on his helmet.


I was pretty happy with that merely taking 1 more look decided I wanted a flake more than drama with the lighting on his confront.

In that location isn’t a lot of dissimilarity on him or ratio (the departure between the dark and low-cal side) considering the low-cal from the windows behind the photographic camera was acting similar a big make full light and brightening upwards the shadows.

So how do I ready that?

Go back to our dominion of thumb starting bespeak –
aperture controls the wink exposure and shutter speed control ambient.

Okay and then what that means in this scene is that if I alter my aperture information engineering will make Bob darker or lighter because he is being lit primarily by flash.

If I change the shutter speed it will touch on both Bob and the background.

Equally I desire information technology darker, I but need to dial in a faster shutter speed and the background will get darker.

Dial in a faster shutter speed and the background will become darker. Huh?!

How that works is our base of operations exposure f4.5 at 1/eighth is a right exposure for the natural light in the room.

If I alter information technology f4.5 at say ane/60th (3 stops darker) it is in outcome underexposing the room low-cal.

If I had taken a shot at that exposure without whatsoever flash it would just be dark overall. Only recall the flash is firing and lighting up Bob at f4.v which results in an epitome that looks similar this.

second flash exposure using ISO 400, f5, 1/60th of a second
ISO 400 – f5 – i/60th of a 2d

For some reason, which I cannot remember at present, I did alter my aperture to f5. If I remember correctly my exposure on Bob was a little over then I wanted to right that and going from f4.5 to f5 was plenty.

Observe the deviation in the lighting on Bob here

Permit’south look at what’s happened:

  • There is more dramatic lighting on his confront
  • You tin really see the second wink coming from behind him which is lighting upwardly his ear and side of his face likewise as the side of the big woods stove on the left
  • At that place is more of a stronger ratio (the difference between shadows and low-cal areas) on his confront up
  • The groundwork behind him is darker
  • At that place is a lot more texture showing in his shirt and on his face up (which in this example with a guy like Bob shows more than of his graphic symbol)

For this last paradigm, I took it fifty-fifty farther and went to however a faster shutter speed.

This added more drama yet, more texture and darkened the interior of the room farther. Nosotros also added a steampunk play gun as a prop, which as you can encounter Bob had NO fun with at all! 😉

a faster shutter speed was used in this last flash photography example using ISO 400, f5, 1/200th of a second
ISO 400- f5 – 1/200th of a second

Why finish at one/200th of a 2d?

If yous are wondering why I didn’t go to an fifty-fifty faster shutter speed than 1/200th it is considering my camera has a flash sync speed of i/200th of a second (consult your photographic camera’southward manual to check for your photographic camera sync speed).

If I shoot faster than that, the shutter will open and close and then fast the flash doesn’t have a adventure to fully betrayal the whole scene and I get an epitome that has a black band across one-half of information technology.

Many flashes practise have a “high speed sync” setting. Withal – when using the flash off photographic photographic camera and in manual mode that setting is not available. If you are using the flash on camera you tin can fix your flash to “loftier speed sync” (check your wink manual for how to gear up that up) and apply whatever shutter speed you want.

Or if you fork out the coin for the TTL triggers information technology volition besides piece of work with them.

The merely time I really find it necessary to use really fast shutter speeds and flash is when I’m working outdoors and I desire to overpower the natural light, which isn’t very oft.

Before and Subsequently of Ambient Light vs Added Flash

Here is a comparison of the earlier and subsequently showing the first test shot using merely ambience lite. Compare that to the after ane with wink added.

Which practise you prefer? Which has more drama?

Retrieve you can do this?

Before and after example photos showing natural ambient light vs a photo with off-camera flash used

Challenge and activity programme

I know y’all lot can do this, and the beauty of digital photography is that you don’t take to wait to discover out!

Worst instance scenario is you do a examination and information technology’s non exposed right, but y’all take the power to review your image immediately and make adjustments.

Continue these quick tips handy or write them on an alphabetize carte du jour to assist yous. In fact, hither’southward a handy PDF Cheat Sheet for you lot, merely impress information technology off and keep data engineering science in your camera pocketbook!

flash photography tutorial cheat sheet for off camera flash techniques

Click here to download this flash cheatsheet

equally a PDF and then you tin can print it or salve to your mobile device and accept information technology handy when yous demand information technology. By clicking the link, you lot volition be sent a download of the free flash cheat sheet and be subscribed to our weekly photography emails.

For another article on using flash delight read: Off camera flash techniques for dramatic portrait lighting

Quick rules of pollex to apply as starting points

  • Wink exposure is controlled past your discontinuity setting
  • Background and ambience exposure is controlled past the shutter speed

    (annotation the subject area may get brighter if you use a slower shutter speed to lighten the background)
  • If your wink exposure is too bright y’all can: movement the flash farther away from the subject; OR decline the ability output on the flash; OR arrange your aperture to a smaller opening. Ex. you would get from f2.8 to f4.
  • If your wink exposure is likewise night (subject is dark) yous tin can: move the flash closer to the field of study; plow upwards the power output on the flash unit of measurement; or arrange your settings to a larger aperture. Eg. go from f5.six to f4.
  • If your groundwork is as well nighttime use a slower shutter speed. Annotation you lot volition desire to utilise a tripod if your shutter speed is longer than 1/your lens focal length. (eg. if you’re using a 50mm lens if your shutter speed is slower than 1/50th employ a tripod)
  • If your background is too brilliant use a faster shutter speed.

Now exit there, become a flash and be fearless!

Until next fourth dimension,