We all find ourselves in situations from time to time where we have to strike a deal between ambient tungsten lighting and flash. It may be during a location shoot or wedding where it’s simply unavoidable, or, as in the case of Jay P Morgan’s shoot below, you might take the decision to do so from an artistic stand point. Either way, there’s always lots to think about. Color temperature is probably the point discussed most often, but as always you should start with just getting the exposure spot on. In this step-by-step video below, The Slanted Lens team show how they lit these beautiful retro-inspired portraits combining old fashioned light bulbs with studio strobes.

As a commercial photographer with over 20 years’ experience, Jay P has obviously faced these situations many times. The lighting rigs might look complicated, but his core approach is still very simple: remember the exposure triangle – ISO, aperture, shutter speed.



Top Tips for Balancing Light Bulbs with Strobes

As Jay P says in the clip, “It’s not a hard concept to grasp, but a hard principle to apply.”

balancing-light-bulbs-with-strobes-slanted-lens-02Here are a few of the tips I took away:

  1. Your ISO will affect the entire scene overall, both the light bulbs and the strobes.
  2. Provided that you are shooting with speeds slower than 1/80th of a second, changing your shutter speed won’t have any effect on the output of the strobes. This is because the strobes offer such a short duration of light. If you go faster than 1/80th sec though, you may start clipping the flash which could result in dark strips across edges of your photos. Therefore, use your aperture to adjust the effect of the strobe light.
  3. Because the light bulbs offer a constant source of illumination, their appearance on your image can be altered by adjusting the shutter speed. Obviously, a slower shutter speed will make them appear brighter, and slowing things down will make them darker.
  4. Clearly, the purpose of the strobes will usually be to illuminate the subject and make them the focus of the image. So, begin by setting your aperture by metering for the strobes, ensuring that your subject is exposed properly.
  5. You can then adjust your shutter speed so that the light bulbs or other constant light source is exposed to your taste. Be aware that the strobes will help to freeze your subject at slower shutter speeds, but it might still be a good idea to make use of a tripod – especially when shooting with a longer lens, as Jay P is doing in the video.

This basic approach can be adopted for any scenario where you may need to balance flash with another constant light source, whether that’s a lamp, a light bulb or a sunset.


To see more how-to videos from The Slanted Lens, check out their YouTube page. And if you want to know where to find those retro-style light bulbs, Amazon has a great deal on them!

Have these tips been useful? What situations do you find yourself in where you need to balance more than one light source? Do you think additional lights add to an image generally, or distract from the subject? Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments section below!

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