Get amazing outdoor location portraits by mixing ambient light with your flash

Jan 3, 2017

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

Get amazing outdoor location portraits by mixing ambient light with your flash

Jan 3, 2017

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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A common mistake made when learning to shoot flash outdoors is to try and crush every bit of ambient light you can. Many photographers think it’s either one or the other. Daylight or flash. But mixing the two and getting the best of both worlds often produces the most spectacular results. It’s also less stress in your batteries.

Photographer Francisco Hernandez visits this topic in his newest video. He takes advantage of the TTL capabilities of his Flashpoint/Godox flashes for his demonstration, but the same effect can easily be achieved with manual flash units. You may need something that supports high speed sync, though, depending on the ambient light levels and your aperture.

YouTube video

The differences are quite dramatic. In each comparison, both image are very good, but each has a very different tone and mood. Sometimes, you’ll want to crush the ambient, and there’s nothing wrong with that at all. Often, though, it’s crushed simply because people believe or are told that’s what you’re supposed to do with flash, thinking studio conditions always translate to the real outdoor world.

Adjusting the ambient light with your shutter speed or ISO lets you get a bit more of the environment into your scene. It provides context. Using some of the ambient light to fill in those shadows also helps to give a sense of depth and form. Just remember if you’re not using TTL, you’ll want to adjust your flash power to compensate for those ISO changes.

When you shoot with flash on location, are you a “kill the ambient” kinda person? Do you prefer to mix the two for a balanced feel? Or do you primarily light with ambient and just use flash for fill? Let us know in the comments.

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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2 responses to “Get amazing outdoor location portraits by mixing ambient light with your flash”

  1. Rimple Bhakta Avatar
    Rimple Bhakta

    Great post, I would like to see a comparison of a 300w vs 600w strobe. I am in the market for a outdoor-friendly strobe but the $600+ price range is way out of my budget. Anyone have any links to a good read for budget friendly strobes for this purpose? (shooting with a 6d as well).

  2. luke Avatar
    luke

    As far as I am concerned, mixing the two light is the way to go. Otherwise, what is the point of shooting photos outdoors?