Tactical Ambient Light

Everyday is Thanksgiving for me, and here's the main reason why.

So thrilled was I with my magic hour romp (see previous post), I scheduled my wife’s portrait session for the following day’s last hour of light. The image above is my favorite from the session.  I think a lot of non-photographers might assume it is naturally lit. At least, I hope non-photographers will think that. I expect photographers to see the double catchlights in her eye and know that at least two artificial light sources contributed to this photograph.

I’ve mentioned David Hobby‘s AFKA mnemonic before: Ambient, Fill, Key, Accent. I always think in these terms when staging a photo. In this case, the ambient light is the accent light, as sunset strikes the windows and door behind Laurie. With ISO 400 and a shutter speed of 1/200, the ambient light also provides an overall warm glow, but Laurie herself is lit primarily by flash.  The on-axis fill is a camera-mounted SB800 with a Gary Fong Lightsphere, while the actual key light is an SB600 in the Photek Softlighter II.

The Photek Softlighter II is part umbrella, part softbox, and all awesome. It opens like a reflector umbrella, and includes both silver and gold interior inserts. A translucent white cover both directs and diffuses the reflected light. You can see my SB600 INSIDE the Softlighter. In the portrait, this produces the light striking Laurie's face at camera right. Would you have said she was lit by a small camera flash? I used the gold reflector insert to better match the color of the ambient light.

Most of my flash work in recent months has required that I overwhelm ambient light and control all illumination via flash. Combining flash and ambient light is an exhilarating challenge, and one I hope to face many times in 2012.

Gary Fong Lightsphere on the left; Sto-Fen Omnibounce on the right. I use some sort of diffuser on my speedlights 90% of the time - even when they are used with a reflective or shoot-through umbrella.

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Filed under Camera Gear, Lighting, Portraiture

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