Control The Effect of Natural Light

In my previous post, Window Silhouettes and Exposure Adjustments, I talked about how a simple change of shutter speed or ISO can bring out more detail from a window scene.  There, we started with an all white (essentially blown out) scene outside the window, then lowered the exposure to allow the sky and clouds to be visible (essentially a proper exposure for the sky).  By continuing to lower the exposure, you can reduce daylight to night.  Adding in a thoughtful application of artificial light to the mix, you can create a variety of effects.  The sunlight doesn’t have to be in control.

In most cases, you’re going to rely on flash/strobe lighting to make this work.  Here is basic formula:

  • Reduce Daylight.  Adjust your camera settings just to the point that the daylight source is reduced to darkness.  You have three exposure controls to consider:  1)  Shutter Speed.  This can be reduced to the fastest speed allowed by your camera when working with flash (your x-sync).  2)  ISO.  Whatever your camera’s lowest ISO setting is, use that.  3)  Aperture/f-stop.  Finally, adjust your f-stop until it looks like someone turned the natural lighting off.
  • Add Flash.  Next, bring in the flash lighting and simply adjust its power until you get a good exposure for your subject.

In the image above, you can see that the room was filled with lots a great natural light coming in through the windows.  But by lowering my exposure settings to my camera’s flash sync speed of 1/250 sec, f/5.6 at ISO 100, I was able to reduce the natural light to darkness.  I brought in a single Alien Bees B800 strobe at 1/4 power, modified with a shoot-through umbrella.  As you can see in the next image, the strobe provided the light needed for the settings I was using.


In situations where you’re working with daylight, but would like to create images that appear to be taken at night, or you’re simply looking for a more controlled studio lighting look (see the two images below), all you need is a good application of this technique.

cat1 cat2

This is one of the reasons why I believe that even photographers who specialize in natural light shooting, should become proficient with flash/strobe; this combination of skills will give you the most versatility, allowing you to create any lighting look you want.

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any particular gels needed to make speedlights match daylight? or do you need to account for the white curtains, too? I can never remember which gels match which sources.

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