New Workshop! Lighting 3 | Advanced Off Camera Flash

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You are watching a free tutorial from Lighting 101.
To view the entire course, upgrade to Premium or purchase it in the SLR Lounge Store.

To understand how to balance for a dramatic effect, let’s quickly go over the basics of balancing for natural effect. In summary, for a natural effect we make our ambient light brighter and use less flash power on our subjects. This creates an image where the evidence of flash looks so minimal that it almost looks like we only reflected natural light; and that is the goal for natural effect. To create a dramatic effect we need to do the exact opposite. We darken down our ambient light and brighten up the flash power.



In our first example, our subject wanted a dark and cinematic headshot for his acting portfolio. We first pick a location where the background is naturally darker, and in this scene we were shooting underneath a bridge.


Once we have our ambient background light exposed then we add our flash. Because we want the most dramatic look for our model we chose a Rembrandt lighting pattern for him. These stark lines between shadow and light create a dualistic quality that translates into an emotion. With some direction towards our model we are able to portray a split personality kind of look; good vs evil. If we shot this image using only ambient light then we wouldn’t have been able to achieve this dramatic look for our model.



In this example, the sun had just set on our beach location and the clock was ticking on our ambient light. When we expose for the background our lovely model is completely dark. We bounced around ½ to ¼ flash power onto our model to create a very beautiful and dramatic shot.


If we were to shoot this image using only ambient light, then to get our model properly exposed we would have completely blown out the background. In order to achieve a beautiful dramatic look we simply need to expose for the ambient background light, and add our flash to get our subject properly exposed.



In our desert image, we again are shooting after the sun has set. Because we decide to go for a dramatic shot, we darken our ambient light and again our model looks like a silhouette against the sky. Using a silver reflector, we bounce our flash to give our light some direction. This produces a lovely dramatic sunset shot.


To reiterate, when you balance for dramatic effect you are simply taking the ambient light down and pushing the flash up. Generally, you will underexpose the background for tone and detail while powering the flash to light your subject in the lighting pattern of your choice. Go out and try it! Experiment with different lighting patterns and different camera exposures for many different looks.


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  1. Alyssa Smirnov

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Lighting 101