Balancing Flash with Ambient Light Explanation

Using flash when taking environmental portraits works great to ensure that the subject stands out from their surroundings. When doing so, you also have greater control over how much of the ambient light affects your subject. This determines how dramatic the overall image appears. In this video, photographer Robert Hall explains how you can change the overall mood of the image by controlling your ambient light:

Hall talks about a very convenient and effective method to adjust your settings that vary the brightness of the surroundings while maintaining the same exposure on the subject. The method is pretty quick and the results are quite pronounced. You can use this technique to quickly take multiple shots and judge the right balance between flash and ambient light that works best for the particular scene.

Before adding flash, start off with an exposure setting that exposes the background well. And once you’ve introduced flash, you can vary the amount of ambient light by dropping the ISO by a stop and increasing the flash output by a stop. This will keep the exposure on the subject the same but the exposure on the surroundings will get darker. It’s best to try it out for a couple of stops so you’ll have some options to choose from.

“The change in ISO and flash output cancel each other out. And the flash on the subject looks the same, however now the ambient light on the subject and background is one stop darker.”

If you find yourself in a dilemma about getting the right balance between flash and ambient light, definitely try this technique out. It’s really quick, so you can even share the options with your client immediately.

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