Balancing Flash With Ambient Light Indoors

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Using flash in photography is often a source of not bad defoliation. I’m going to try and simplify it downward to the bare bones, so that if y’all’ve never used flash or have been a bit intimidated by it in the by, hopefully yous can brand enough sense of it to give it a go.

The “they say” rule 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’grand going to keep information technology simple and start there.

I find the easiest way to understand how this works is to see it in action using different settings with the same subject so you can come across how adjusting the settings change the resulting image.

If you want to follow along discover yourself a subject and set upwards a scenario where you can try out some flash photography.

Stride #one AMBIENT Light ONLY

Earlier you add whatsoever flash, have one photograph using but the low-cal that is naturally occurring in the scene.

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

You’ll sometimes see natural light referred to as “ambience” which is actually more accurate, but the two terms are often interchanged. Take information technology just to mean the light occurring in the scene that yous cannot control, it’s already there.

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 we did part of the workshop. The room nosotros were in is quite dark with but a few small windows behind the camera.

So the kickoff affair I did was to take a “base exposure” using just the ambient light as described above.

This is the upshot. Annotation the exposure information below in the paradigm explanation.

ISO 400, f4.v for 1/8th of a 2nd using a 32mm lens (on a full frame Catechism)

After reviewing the image I decided the lighting from the windows wasn’t all that bad, but I thought information technology could be better.

I notice the light on Bob is a bit flat, as it’s coming from 2 windows on either side of me, behind camera.

What that does when the light falls on the discipline from the camera angle is it makes the field of study look overly flat, with footling dimension and texture. So I decided to add in ii flashes set upward off camera.

STEP #ii Add Wink

I use a gear up of remotes that do not use TTL (through the lens) technology which means they fire the flashes only exercise not communicate whatsoever of the exposure data back to the camera.

Why you may inquire?

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

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

  1. Gear up your camera
  2. Prepare your flash
  3. Burn a test shot
  4. If the image is besides brilliant decline the power on the flash, motion it further away from the subject, OR use a smaller discontinuity
  5. If the epitome is also dark 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 wink exposure.

Here is a lighting diagram showing how I gear up my two flashes off camera.

Annotation: please keep in mind you don’t have to pause the depository financial institution to buy a couple flashes and a set of remote flash triggers!
I accept used all of the following brands and can recommend them: Canon 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 set up showing the position of the two windows and where I placed my two flashes. The i on camera right was bounced into an umbrella.

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

For this beginning image using flash I used the same exposure settings every bit the previous image using ambient light but. Note the background appears exactly the aforementioned. This is because the exposure hasn’t changed and the flashes are not lighting it up.

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 Canon)

Discover the just thing that changed 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 bit more (things closer to the lens when using a broad bending look larger) but nonetheless come across enough 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 but taking one more look decided I wanted a fleck more than drama with the lighting on his confront.

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

So how do I set that?

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

Okay and so what that means in this scene is that if I alter my aperture information technology will make Bob darker or lighter considering he is being lit primarily by wink.

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

As I want information technology darker, I simply need to dial in a faster shutter speed and the background will get darker.

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

How that works is our base of operations exposure f4.five at 1/eighth is a correct exposure for the natural low-cal in the room.

If I alter it f4.5 at say 1/60th (3 stops darker) it is in outcome underexposing the room light.

If I had taken a shot at that exposure without whatsoever flash it would just be dark overall. But remember the flash is firing and lighting up Bob at f4.5 which results in an epitome that looks like this.

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

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

Find 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 actually see the second flash coming from behind him which is lighting upwardly his ear and side of his face likewise as the side of the big wood stove on the left
  • There is more of a stronger ratio (the difference between shadows and light areas) on his face up
  • The background behind him is darker
  • At that place is a lot more texture showing in his shirt and on his face up (which in this case with a guy like Bob shows more than of his character)

For this last paradigm, I took it even further and went to yet a faster shutter speed.

This added more than drama yet, more texture and darkened the interior of the room further. We also added a steampunk play gun as a prop, which every bit you tin see 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 1/200th of a second?

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

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

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

Or if you fork out the coin for the TTL triggers it will besides piece of work with them.

The only 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 Afterwards of Ambient Light vs Added Flash

Hither is a comparison of the before and subsequently showing the first test shot using just ambience light. Compare that to the after one with flash added.

Which do 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 program

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

Worst case scenario is yous do a examination and information technology’s non exposed right, merely yous take the power to review your image immediately and make adjustments.

Keep these quick tips handy or write them on an index card to help you. In fact, hither’s a handy PDF Cheat Canvass for you lot, merely print it off and keep information technology 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 can print it or salve to your mobile device and have information technology handy when yous demand information technology. By clicking the link, you lot will 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 by your aperture setting
  • Background and ambient exposure is controlled by the shutter speed
    (note the discipline may go brighter if you use a slower shutter speed to lighten the background)
  • If your flash exposure is too bright y’all can: movement the flash further away from the subject; OR pass up the power output on the flash; OR adjust your aperture to a smaller opening. Ex. you would become from f2.8 to f4.
  • If your wink exposure is likewise dark (subject is dark) you can: move the flash closer to the subject; turn up the power output on the wink unit of measurement; or adjust your settings to a larger aperture. Eg. go from f5.6 to f4.
  • If your background is as well dark use a slower shutter speed. Annotation you lot will desire to use 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 one/50th employ a tripod)
  • If your groundwork is too bright use a faster shutter speed.

Now go out there, become a flash and be fearless!

Until next fourth dimension,