How to Mimic Ambient Light Using Flash

In this video, photographer Joe McNally explains how you can use a speedlight to mimic actual ambient lighting, which in this case would be the warm yellow-orange light produced by prayer candles inside a church in Mexico:

The Problem

Although the lighting was simple to set up, there were a few things to note. The church was dark and had a cavernous appearance to it. And just like any other church there were altars, icons, and banks of votive candles.

McNally wanted to capture an image with the elderly woman standing close to one of these banks of candles. Unfortunately, for him the candles in this particular church were not at a fortuitous location, meaning he had to experiment.

What Made the Shot Come Together?

  • The key light was a speedlight placed at a low angle to the camera right, gelled so that it produced a warm candle-light color tone.
  • The speedlight and the softbox were hand-held.
  • The camera angle was 90° to the subject.
  • The exposure was set for the ambient light of the church.
  • Camera settings were 1/30 shutter and f/5.6.
  • McNally used TTL metering.

McNally used the following gear:


Final Image with Flash Matching Ambient Light

“So essentially I made [it] happen with a flash placed low and to camera right and gelled from a white light flash to the color of fire, the color of candles.”

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