Balancing Twilight With A Flash


One of the coolest things I’ve discovered with exposing photographs is that you are often making more than one exposure at a time. What do I mean by that? Well, the subject is being exposed with the flash while the background is being exposed by the ambient light. So why should you care? If I exposed for the subject, it would be exposed perfectly while the background, typically a sky, would be blown out and appear a big white blob without any interesting detail to speak of. If I expose for the sky so I can recoup what my eye sees in the sky, my subject would probably be a silhouette with little or no detail. To fix this I want to balance my subject’s light from the flash with the ambient light of my background. Now I should have a perfectly exposed image where detail is retained in all areas of the photograph.

In this scenario the ambient light for the background is primarily controlled with the shutter speed (and to a certain extent, the ISO and aperture of the lens), while the subject is lit from the flash which is controlled by the aperture. I will begin by metering the ambient and then add my flash. In this case I under exposed the background by a couple of stops and exposed the subject normally to darken the sky a little. It’s a very cool looking effect that makes the photograph look closer to what my eye sees when I take the picture.

The setup was a single SB-28 speedlight with a 1/4 CTO gel to add a little warmth to my daughter’s face. ISO 800 at 1/30th of a second at F4.5. Shot through a 43″ umbrella on a light stand to the right.

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