Photography Lighting: Balancing Light Bulbs and Strobes

If you’ve ever tried to use a flash while still making use of practical light sources (e.g. lamps, sunlight, etc.), you probably know how frustrating it can be to get the exposure just right. Unless you know how to adjust your camera settings and your strobes systematically, it can feel like a lot of guess work. Learn the basics of combining light sources by watching this demonstration:

Though mixing light sources may initially seem complicated, it actually boils down to a simple formula using the exposure triangle, generalized as follows:

  • ISO affects all of the light in an image
  • shutter speed controls ambient or constant light
  • aperture controls strobes

To show how he uses this concept, photographer Jay P. Morgan hung 30 tungsten light bulbs from the ceiling of his studio space to serve as the ambient/secondary light source. From there, he began adjusting his camera settings and FlexFlash strobes, one by one, until he was happy with the results.

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This step by step process can be applied to any setting where you want to combine light sources:

  1. Start with the ambient or constant light and adjust the shutter speed until you like the exposure.
  2. Adjust the power of any background lights you’d like to include.
  3. Set up your strobes/key lights and adjust their power and/or your aperture to control exposure.
  4. Add gels, fill light, rim lights, reflectors, etc. to fine tune the image.

The method works when mixing strobes with any constant light source, whether it be the setting sun, a desk lamp, or Christmas lights. Take out the guess work and put a little more life into your photos by effectively balancing ambient light and your flash.

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