Blending Ambient Light and Flash Indoors and Outdoors

Lighting for both indoor and outdoor portrait photography doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, the lighting can be very similar with the correct exposure. In this video, Ashley Boring takes you through a lifestyle photography shoot while finding the right balance of artificial lighting and ambient light in Hocking Hills, Ohio.

For the outdoor portrait shoot, Ashley is aiming for a lifestyle photography approach. Traveling to Southeastern Ohio, she is able to capture the bright fall-colored trees and endless countryside hills. Inspired by the autumn colors, she captures her lifestyle shoot around the warm fall tones for her portraits.

Upon arriving at the location, Ashley has access to a log cabin and decides she wants to use the natural wood beams on the exterior of the cabin. When using flash photography outside, she likes to assess the ambient light before setting up any gear. Since it is still fairly early in the morning, the sun is closer to the horizon. In response to this, the surrounding woods are casting shadows onto the exterior of the cabin creating a unique texture.

Ashley plays into this morning golden hour setting and lights her subject from the same direction as the sunlight taking full advantage of the ambient light. This provides her with a more natural lit portrait shot for her outdoor portrait photography.

How to Incorporate Off-Camera Flash Outdoors with Ambient Light

Wanting to complement the ambient light while maintaining great flash power, Ashley works with a lower wattage off-camera flash speedlight. She chooses to photograph using an FJ80 80Ws Universal Touchscreen Speedlight, which comes with a standard hot shoe mount and is able to perform with High-Speed Sync to allow fast sync speeds. Using the FJ80 in conjunction with the Rapid Box 2×3, Ashley is able to set up and tear down quickly due to the lightweight nature of her equipment.

To soften the light and get a more natural look out of the speedlight, Ashley modifies the FJ80 with a Rapid Box Switch 2×3 softbox. She positions the light to the side of her model in the same direction that the sunlight was coming from. This allows her to create light that complements the natural ambient light, while being able to control how it fell on her subject’s face.

When photographing outdoors it is important to balance the output of your flash with the available ambient light. The easiest way to blend the lighting is to first get your ambient exposure without any flash. Once you get your background set, you can then bring in your flash lighting and get your exposure for your subject.

For her final shot outdoors, she captures her subject at a slightly lower angle. She directed her model to stand behind the grass so it’s in the foreground and captures a shallow depth of field lifestyle portrait. Her camera settings for this photograph are ISO 100, f4 at 1/200th of a second.

Balancing Indoor Ambient Light for Lifestyle Portraits

After capturing her outdoor portraits, Ashley moves inside to get a lifestyle photo of her model in front of the fireplace. Ashley wants to recreate a warm fireplace scene taken in the evening for her next photo, the background detail is a top priority for this scene.

Similar to photographing outdoors, Ashley first analyzes the existing ambient light indoors. One major difference when working indoors is that you usually have more control over the ambient lighting. She turns off any of the room lights that she can so she is able to add in controlled light, instead of relying on the available lighting.

Next, Ashley examines the natural light coming through the windows. When working with window light, you have two available options. You can either block the light coming through with a scrim, or you can incorporate the natural light into your photo.

At this location, there is a ton of window light coming in from the doors and windows. So, instead of blocking all of the natural ambient light coming in, she decides to work with it. The ambient light serves as a slight fill light to help brighten the room and lift shadows on her model’s face. She notices the strongest ambient light is coming from the two glass sliding doors. Ashley places her model with her back to those doors and uses the ambient light as a slight rim light.

Adding Off-Camera Flash to Compliment Ambient Lighting

Ashley adds artificial flash lighting to add a punch of dimension to her lifestyle portrait. To keep the shoot quick and simple, she uses the FJ80 speedlight modified by a Rapid Box 2×3 softbox. She also makes the decision to add in a second FJ80 and create a hairlight on her model. This, combined with the ambient rim light, helps separate the model from the background.

Ashley then adds a CTO gel, or color temperature orange gel, to the FJ80 acting as a hairlight which helps create mood lighting. This helps complement the warm tones of the room and match the light coming from the fireplace.

The setting for this shot ended up being ISO 100, f4 at 1/40th of a second. Ashley chooses to shoot at a slower shutter speed for her indoor look, knowing the flash will freeze her subject and allow for more ambient light. This means not only will the rim light from the window be a little brighter, but more importantly, the flames from the fireplace will be brighter.

The Importance of Blending Flash and Ambient Light

When it comes to on-location photography, both indoor and outdoor photography are very similar to work in their specific lighting conditions. The trick for both is to analyze and control the balance of ambient and artificial light sources, and find the right balance of the two for your desired look.

Looking back on this photo shoot, for the first look Ashley was aiming for more ambient lighting in the outdoor scene. She exposed the scene to more ambient light. For Ashley’s second look indoors, she wanted it to be darker, so she let the speedlight overpower the ambient light and lit it mostly with flash. So, on your next photo shoot as a lifestyle photographer, remember to take the time to assess the ambient light before you set up your lighting gear.

Watch Ashley capture colorful and creative portraits with the FJ80 Speedlight and FJ80 Creative Pack!

Lighting Gear in Action

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