One of the things I really enjoy in photography is playing with strobes. I hear many photographers say they are ‘ambient’ photographers and I wonder why? Artificial light should be treated as another tool in a photographer’s bag of tricks. Master your strobes and master your lighting. Master your lighting and you’re one step closer to mastering photography.
Not being a master of anything yet, I try to find reasons to shoot with my strobes; little or big strobes. On Saturday, I practiced on balancing my strobe lighting against the power of the sun. Strobe vs. ambient. Since the ambient lighting is constant, there are two places where you can make adjustments to work with the ambient light; in camera and your strobes.
Generally speaking my workflow is as follows:
1. Think about how you want your photo to look. Without a target, how do you know where to aim?
2. Position the subject and evaluate the ambient light. This is the base that I work from.
3. Assuming my strobes have enough power to do what I want, I position them based on how I want the light to fall on my subject.
4. Power up the strobes at 1/2 power. This is normally my starting power level.
5. Test and calibrate the strobes. This is the tricky part.
A. With the camera in manual mode, compose my subject and set my camera settings to my desired exposure using only ambient light as the light source. Being mindful of my camera’s max sync speed, I may also use a couple different filters. Polarizers add some contrast, reduce glare, and add some pop to some colors. ND filter to knock down the strength of the ambient light. I have 2, 6, and 10 stop ND filters to play with. Generally the polarizer + 2 stop ND filter is enough to knock down the ambient lighting to a controllable level.
B. Power up your strobes, fire off a shot and evaluate. If the strobes do not provide enough light, I can either move the strobe(s), increase the strobe output or open up my aperture.
C. Repeat step 5B until I get the correct strobe exposure.
As I execute step 5, I ask myself a few things. Are my strobes to be the key light or just fill? If key, will they have enough juice to do what I want them to do? Should the expose of the ambient light be neutral or under? If underexposed, how much?