Photography Cheat Sheet: Spot Flash
Studio photographers are usually used to using the best flashes (opens in a new tab) and strobes. The studio can be considered the home of the flash, as the indoor environment usually makes artificial lighting the main source of light. When shooting on location, the use of flash is not essential, but rather a great way to create dynamic images.
Whether it is through the use of accent lighting to lift shadows and balance the presence of natural and artificial lighting, or peripheral lighting to outline the subject, or even strong backlighting to create false effects, location lighting would be uncontrollable without flash.
A main skill you will need when photographing any subject on location is creating the light ratio between natural light and artificial light. Although shooting in the studio presents challenges, the main advantage is that the lighting structure can be built from scratch and fully adapted to the subject and style you are shooting.
In an outdoor location or in an indoor setting with different light sources, you need to work with the lighting to blend, subdue or utilize the sunlight.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the best spot lighting techniques and help you use flash with ease. Why not save and download our flash cheat sheet on the spot at the bottom of this page to come back to later?
What equipment do you need for on-site flash?
Key tip: keep it simple
Location-based photography places time, space, and weight restrictions on your shot. The more gear you carry, the more complex the setup becomes and the more assistants and lighting technicians you need.
One of the cornerstones of successful flash photography is the concept of simplicity rather than complexity. If you can go with just one light and get the look you want, then there’s no point adding a second or third flash to the mix. The more light sources you add to a setup, the more you have to consider lighting ratio, spread, and direction, as well as the challenges of setting up radio trigger frequencies to control each lighting group individually .
While infrared (IR) triggers are generally effective in controlled lighting environments such as a studio, line-of-sight flash-triggering methods are less reliable in outdoor locations, where ambient light and physical barriers such as trees, walls and heights may interfere. with the signal. The best flash triggers for your camera (opens in a new tab) are good for outdoor shooting, allowing you to position a flash away from your camera.
On any professional photo shoot, you are going to take a significant number of images, which can consume a lot of flash battery power. This is especially true if you use your flash at full power to dominate the scene. Portable batteries (or a solar generator) are essential if you want to use strobes, as they replace mains power, but there are alternatives to flashes. Simply plug in your strobe, continuous light or flash and fire your flashes without interruption.
Flash vs continuous light
Using flash in places where you need to balance artificial and ambient light takes practice. Use of continuous lights – either full size studio models or LED light panels (opens in a new tab) and portable models, such as the Rotolight NEO 3 (opens in a new tab) – is simpler. You can see the effect in real time, reducing the number of calculations needed to get the light balance right. However, the light output is lower than flash, so in darker environments it can be difficult to avoid motion blur. Mixing light types often blends the best features of each.
Strobe or flash?
Strobes are ideal when you need power, if you’re lighting a large space, for example. There is usually a greater range of accessories for studio lights, giving you greater flexibility in lighting styles. However, flashes are much more portable and you can pack six or seven units with less weight penalty than two strobes. They are also better for photographing moving subjects, due to the short flash duration.
Mix flash and ambient light for a natural look
Sometimes you want the light from the flash to interact with the ambient sunlight in a way that doesn’t reveal our lighting setup. You can use flash to take control of the lighting structure and create a direction that suits the composition and the subject.
In a mid-day fashion shoot, for example, you might want to use top-down harsh light for the background, but you’ll need to soften, shape, and diffuse the subject light. Similarly, in a sunset landscape environmental portrait, you may need to add fill light, particularly if the subject is backlit, but you will need to match the color of the flash to that of the image. ‘background.
In each of these situations, the goal is to make the light from our flashes appear as if it came from the scene itself, rather than from an artificial source. This creates an organic feel to the shot and provides a stronger narrative, since the viewer is more focused on the setting.
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