New Workshop! Lighting 3 | Advanced Off Camera Flash


4 Fast Steps to Easily Light Your Backgrounds

By Zach & Jody Gray on June 8th 2014

Are you ready to take your lighting to the NEXT level and light up the environment? Today, we are going to show you EXACTLY how to do it with step by step instructions AND a video showing it in action!


In order to turn the image you see below (natural light) into what you see above, you need to follow these steps in order to get great results with NO guess work!

 Step 1. Have the Right Gear & Location

The gear we use to do shots like this are any type of main light (like the Rapid Box from Westcott), and then a speedlight with a tungsten gel over it to really make it interesting.


Natural Light Shot:(ambient light reading was ISO 100, f/4 at 1/100th shutter)

The locations that work best for these type of shots are ones that have even overall lighting (this was on a city street in Nashville with all indirect lighting), and ones that have a small area with a little less light.

This area had a metal doorway indent that had less light in it than the rest of the wall around it. It has LOW overall light (so the speedlight can over-power it) and the background was reflective which makes the light look interesting.

Step 2. Under-Expose the Ambient by 2 Stops


(ambient light under-exposed by 2 stops)

In order to have the background look dynamic, you have to make sure that the ambient light doesn’t wash everything out. So, to do that, we need to under-expose the background by around 2 stops.

We metered the ambient light to read ISO 100, 1/200th shutter at f/5.6 (which is 2 stops darker than the natural light shot in step 1).

Step 3. Add the Background Light


(background light added)

We can now add our speedlight with the tungsten gel over it to the background. We lay it flat on it’s back (or on the small boot it comes with) and point it straight up making sure it is EQUAL distance from everything around it. If it is not equal distance, then you will get some areas that are REALLY bright and others that are not.

Then we turn it up until it looks cool. You can meter it, but we just turn it up and down until it is obvious in the shot.

Step 4. Add the Main Light


The camera is already set to the settings that we metered the ambient light to (2 stops under-exposed) so now we just need to power UP the main light until it reads the same settings.

We position the main light, and then power it up (reading its power with our hand-held meter) until it reads ISO 100, 1/200th at f/5.6 (which was the settings that under-exposed the background by 2 stops).

Bam! That is it!

Now we have a cool looking dynamic background, and killer light on our subject in an otherwise NORMAL looking location!

Watch the VIDEO:

(This video is from our IN-CAMERA: Light Digital Workshop)

See more from Zach and Jody Gray on their blog and more about environmental lighting HERE.

This site contains affiliate links to products. We may receive a commission for purchases made through these links, however, this does not impact accuracy or integrity of our content.

Zach and Jody Gray took their first $500 wedding gig and turn it into a real brand. Now, after 7 years of running a 6 figure wedding business, Zach and Jody Gray have now converted their brand to small business consulting & content creation.

They are international speakers on business and shooting systems, and have personally instructed over 1,200 photographers at their IN-CAMERA workshops. They are Top Endorsed Pro’s by Westcott Lighting, are members of the exclusive SanDisk Extreme Team, and and have been featured speakers on CreativeLive, Photo-Vision, WPPI, PPA, SWPP in London and MyWed Conference in Moscow. Their work has been published in RangeFinder and People Magazine. They teach that if THEY can do it, so can you. Check out more of their work on their blog.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Phil Bautista

    Awesome tut. Looking forward to giving this a go. Now I just hope the weather cooperates.

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  2. Kayode Olorunfemi

    Okay Zach, where have you ben all my learning life? Following you like a rash… ok, like something nicer than a rash.

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  3. Kurk Rouse

    Loved these guys form the time I saw them on creative live

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  4. Jacob Jexmark

    Nice one! I’ll be trying this out :)

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  5. Franco

    The question is;

    How did you get that magazine look by post-production editing?

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  6. Chris

    My bad. you were right

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  7. Jeff Peckham

    Great article/video! Do you find a certain flash power to start with on the soft box?

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    • Zach Gray

      Hey Jeff! Good question!
      If you use the same set-up a LOT, then soon you will be able to get it close to start with before metering the light. I have used that same set up a ton, and know that if I am in direct sun, I need to be close to full power, if I am in the shade, half power and so forth.
      But, once you have a great system, you can quickly get it to where you need it to be pretty fast. Meter the ambient light, decide if you want the main 1 or 2 stops brighter, then turn the main flash on and take a reading and adjust.
      A quick way to get the power close faster, is remember that each time you double the power, you add 1 stop of light (and vice versa). That helps get it powered up (or down) faster!


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  8. Chris

    You changed the f-stop by two stops. But you changed your shutter aswell. Thats more than two stops in total

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    • Zach Gray

      Hey Chris!

      The ambient was ISO 100, f/4 at 1/100th shutter.

      The final image is ISO 100, f/5.6 at 1/200th shutter.

      The f stop is one stop darker (f/4 to f/5.6) and then the shutter was increased from 1/100 to 1/200 to darken the background by another stop.

      Hope that helps clarify! :)


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