Using Speedlights with Landscapes

You might not think a small flash -- or even a flashlight -- could make such a big difference in a landscape photo. But the trick is waiting for the ambient to come to you, and being selective about what you light.

More pix, and how they were made, after the jump.

In Elphotoman's light-painted photo of a campsite (above) he combines a flash inside the tent (with a cooling gel) with light painting on the trees.

The exposure is 30 secs at 2.8, which tells you how low the ambient is. Even so, there is still tone in the sky (which is important remember when choosing that shutter speed) to get a sense of depth in the photo. Click on the pic (as with all of the pics in this post) to see more info on how it was done.

Shot mid-afternoon on a foggy day, Gregory Pleau was able to increase the exposure level on the stump with an SB-600 at camera right. This allowed him to underexpose the ambient-lit snow to create a mood for the whole scene.

There is another strobe (an SB-800) presumably lighting the branches at left to a lower exposure, too.

This stand of beeches, by Patrick Eden, also combines light painting and strobe. The strobes (the effects of which are hard to see at this resolution) are coming in from camera right on some of the trees in the background.

Again, waiting for the ambient to drop low enough to allow you time to work is important. Especially if you are light painting, too. Just remember to use the shutter to control the tonal range of your waning sky.

Last but not least, JohnTPleaser uses the technique of spotlighting a portion of his shot (in this case a date palm, in Costa Rica) which was done in the daytime in mottled shade.

Note that he is shooting into the ambient light, which creates shadows in the camera side of the trees. This allows him to bring up the tree and add some texture with a strobe mounted on a voice-activated light stand at camera left.

The above landscape photos jumped out at me during a recent scan of the Strobist Flickr pool. Have you been experimenting with small flashes out in the wild? Hit us with some URLs in the comments.


Brand new to Strobist? Start here | Or jump right to Lighting 101
Connect w/Strobist readers via: Words | Photos

Comments are closed. Question? Hit me on Twitter: @Strobist


Anonymous christopher said...

I lit an ancient grave with speedlights:

No syncing with the sky here, though, because the background was cluttered and i didnt want it to appear as a detailed silhouette against the sky.

January 21, 2008 5:42 AM  
Blogger Antti said...

i shot this a couple of days ago, really for practice, and it kind of misses an subject to give it a final kick... and it'd have been more dramatic to underexpose the ambient more, but photography is a journey, right.

January 21, 2008 6:06 AM  
Blogger Laurent SJ said...

Great subject ! could we have more on Landscape please David ?
whilst in early experimental phase, i found that it helps a lot if shooting dead on or "close Hauled" to the sun. Flash can help a lot filling in this all important foreground. It's not obvious, but you couldn't see any detail of this tree without flash

January 21, 2008 6:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

" ... with a strobe mounted on a voice-activated light stand at camera left."

Aha, less gear more wife ?

January 21, 2008 7:41 AM  
Blogger efleming said...

I used a canon speedlight to light the water and the rock in the foreground of this picture I took in Gatlinburg, TN:

There was also some ambient street lights that gave it that sort of Orange effect.

January 21, 2008 7:42 AM  
Blogger Michael McGuire said...

Okay, I'll bite. What's a voice-activated light stand? Is that a euphemism for "spouse" or "helper"?

January 21, 2008 8:07 AM  
Anonymous itsjustanalias said...

The problem with strobes outside here in the UK is the rain... when it stops we can do this kind of thing

January 21, 2008 8:08 AM  
Anonymous Shawn said...

I just started experimenting with off-camera flash so this article was perfect for me... Here's my attempt at lighting some object at the Vietnam Memorial. I manually set off a SpeedLite 580EX II to the camera's right at the end of the 10 second exposure. I think it turned out better than expected but I still have a long way to go.

Thanks for the info!

January 21, 2008 8:31 AM  
Blogger D said...

Hey David, I've used strobes on my landscape shots a couple of times. This shot is my '2nd' most interesting according to flickr:

and I also have this shot:

Both were taken in Arches National Park.

January 21, 2008 9:17 AM  
Blogger Neil said...

I love landscape photography, and have wondered how strobist techniques could be used to add a new way of looking at them. So this post is very exciting and inspirational for me! Thank you!

I've experimented with light painting and a land/skyscape at night. I was very happy with a photo I took of the galaxy rising over a light-painted balcony during a visit to a friends summer house last year.

Please have a look!

January 21, 2008 9:31 AM  
OpenID fhfoto said...

I never even thought of using flash that way. Great tip, thanks

January 21, 2008 9:38 AM  
Anonymous Mike said...

Those images are so cool. I have never painted with light before. I was wondering if you have any advice or tips when photographing at night to get a successful photograph. for example what kind of flashlights do you need? and what about exposure times?
Awesome photographs!
I am a landscape photographer but I mostly shoot early in the morning and late in the day when the sun is at golden hour.

Please visit my website at

January 21, 2008 9:45 AM  
Blogger Akshath said...

Hay David, nice article about Using Speed lights with Landscapes.. loved it.. i had once tried this .. do check the pic here

January 21, 2008 10:00 AM  
Blogger Doug said...

Check out Dave Black's site ( for some of the best lightpainting's you'll ever see.

January 21, 2008 10:41 AM  
Anonymous Skunkabilly said...

Mr Hobby!

This is right up my alley, I wish I asked about this on Saturday. My brain is still about to explode.

--One of the Jeffs Up Front (the non-Satanic one)

January 21, 2008 10:54 AM  
Anonymous spot32 said...

Great tip, thanks!

January 21, 2008 11:55 AM  
Blogger Todd E. Nordquist said...

Tried posting before, here goes again...

I use off-camera flash quite often when doing low light landscapes. I generally just hand hold the flash, set at low power. I like to keep the flash low enough so it looks natural, but just pops the foreground element a bit. See a couple of examples HERE

January 21, 2008 12:19 PM  
Anonymous Andrew Smith said...

Shameless plug...

January 21, 2008 12:45 PM  
Anonymous Ray said...

Strobe inside a tent shot earlier this fall. Speedlight 580EX shot at 1/8 power. Stopped down to simulate dark skies as it was actually late afternoon when shot.

January 21, 2008 12:46 PM  
Blogger Scott said...

I've been playing with strobes in landscapes with varying degrees of success. Here is a link to one shot where they helped light up the foreground:


January 21, 2008 1:05 PM  
Anonymous travisballard said...

here's a couple that i have done in the past. nothing recent though.

and then this one but it's a potted plant...

January 21, 2008 1:43 PM  
Blogger Patrick Eden said...

This is one of my close up efforts. There are a few other larger scenes here
Regards Patrick.

January 21, 2008 1:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Turned a fallen tree stump into a spooky, halloweenesque gargoyle with an SB800 under it:

January 21, 2008 2:26 PM  
Blogger Mafiu said...

Funny I took this one over the holidays. I was experimenting with a sunset and the woods.

f4 and 1/30s.

Only one flash.

January 21, 2008 2:47 PM  
Anonymous Balmore said...

This is as close as I get to landscape.
Downhill MB Pic @ flickr

More like that plus other things @


January 21, 2008 2:59 PM  
Anonymous Big Mike said...

Here is a landscape shot I took a while back. I used a hand held flash at camera right, to light up the flower and foreground.

January 21, 2008 4:27 PM  
Blogger Jbphotos said...

Hi David,

I have been doing this for a little while now, simple because its more enjoyable than shooting a HDR series and you have so much control in your images.

The first shot is very remote Victoria, Australia

"Salty Trees"

The second shot involved some small LED head torches and a bit of fun!

Lights on


January 21, 2008 5:06 PM  
Blogger Jack & Brenda said...

I took this photo at Kodachrome Basin State Park using a SB800 in each tent, triggered manually with Pocket Wizards.

This photo was taken with one SB800 behind campfire, and one to the camera left.

Mountain Man encampment. One SB800 camera right, one inside tent.

Fort Loramie, Ohio

January 21, 2008 6:44 PM  
Anonymous Will said...

Got a little series I tried on a camping trip:
One - campsite landscape
Two - landscape portrait
Three - silly flash stuff
All were done with hand held 430EX.

January 21, 2008 6:46 PM  
Anonymous Robert Bieber said...

Used a handheld speedlight to get detail in a tree that otherwise would have been all black there

January 21, 2008 6:48 PM  
Anonymous Jeff Geerling said...

Here's my first attempt at light painting. I didn't bring along any strobes, but I used a trusty mag light:

January 21, 2008 6:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Light painted with a small flashlight instead of using flashes, as others where sleeping in the tents already.
Tenting Under Stars

January 21, 2008 7:21 PM  
Anonymous pferdefotografie said...

Yeah, I did that some times, but I'm not a landscape photographer, so the results are nothing to write home about :-)

January 22, 2008 5:01 AM  
Anonymous offcamera said...

Interesting topic. I've been experimenting with flash in some landscape stuff recently. Nothing as good as the examples David chose though!

Rock Inscription
Lichen Post

January 22, 2008 6:11 AM  
Blogger RubenVonParty said...

I already tried a simular method few years ago for my final work for school. Here it is ..

(note: these two pictures are not done with wireless flash triggering but done with a long exposure and firing multiple flashes to lighten up the scene)

January 22, 2008 8:08 AM  
Anonymous malik m.l. williams said...

rotflmao @ the "voice-activated light stand." great article. i'm going to go out and play...

January 22, 2008 9:23 AM  
Blogger altitude zero said...

Strobist invites us to post links to our pics... wow there are going to be a lot of comments on this one. Nice one!

Great post though, takes small strobes into ever bigger photographs. I shot this one a couple of weeks ago, trying to fill the frame of my new fisheye.

massive bridge, normal size guy

January 22, 2008 10:29 AM  
Blogger Keith Taylor Photography said...

A landscape shot that I took on a recent trip to Germany. A 550Ex lighting the cross in the foreground.

January 22, 2008 1:35 PM  
Blogger Darien said...

Come Summer I am all over this...

January 22, 2008 3:47 PM  
Blogger Rob W said...

the painting i did here is a little more subtle,
Star Trails, Tent and Snow it's more fill than anything else (except for the tent).

ice started to form on the XTi during this shot. :D

January 22, 2008 4:24 PM  
Blogger Aaron said...

David, thanks for your amazing blog. I've been lurking for a while -- reading the posts but not venturing to try anything until your post today.

I took my camera out tonight to the park next door and shot some moonlit clouds. I lit the trees using two bursts from the same Sigma EF-500 during a 25 second exposure at ISO 400. Here's the result:

I think they turned out pretty well.

January 22, 2008 8:22 PM  
Blogger Kenbott said...

wow light-drawing with a flashlight is such a good idea.
I'm traveling to Sweden in a few weeks and will be testing out long exposure light writing either with a flash light or burning ember in the snow and will post up some pics soon!

Yet again. Amazing Inspiration!

January 23, 2008 1:27 AM  
Blogger frikosal said...

Here, I used two flashes (SB800, SB600) to be able to expose correctly the background sky and the ground, while keeping the dead tree as a shadow. Most people use filters to do so, but in general I prefer the flash.

Yes please, more posts about landscape.

January 23, 2008 4:30 AM  
Blogger David Ziser said...

Hi David,
Great post, great images too.
David Z

January 23, 2008 2:22 PM  
Anonymous Steve W said...

I shot a silhouette of a tree at twilight and realized that with a strobe I could make the tree lighter than the background sky. I assembled a composite with the negatives here.

January 27, 2008 2:05 AM  
Blogger Evan said...

Hi Everyone,

This simple photograph was improved by adding a little flash to the foreground.

Check it out...


January 27, 2008 8:52 PM  
Blogger Dane said...

Here's a set that that most of the shots are of this nature. Taken awhile ago ;-) but the concept is still valid:

January 28, 2008 5:33 PM  
Anonymous romania photos said...

hi!very nice!! I like very much your photos
are extremely expressive and quality.

June 28, 2009 4:40 PM  
Blogger Karl said...

I used my camera on a tripod and a long exposure to create this shot at night, with the aurora borealis above and the skimming clouds going by a pale red moon.

I plotted down the cliffside a bit and opened it up to 24 mm, multiflash, jumping around as I leaned over and painted the land and river with soft spread light.

September 22, 2010 4:31 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home