On Assignment: Controlling Daylight, Pt. 2

A couple weeks ago, in part one of this OA post, we talked about getting a good ambient exposure and knocking it down a couple of stops to use it as fill.

This is all well and good if the ambient has the right quality of light to use as fill. But what if the ambient looks like crap?

Well, you can always establish use a second flash to establish your desired fill light before creating your key light. The process is the same, and it gives you lots of control in less-than-ideal ambient situations.

The photo above was taken in roughly the same light as the photo in the earlier post. The quality (and quantity) of the ambient fill was fine, actually. But in this case I decided not to use it, to make a point.

In the same way I can use the ambient as fill and work a couple of stops above it with flash for a main light, I can also work a couple of stops above the ambient with my fill light, and then go a couple of stops above that with my main.

This photo is lit almost entirely with one flash with a shoot-thru umbrella, just above the camera. It is very soft, forgiving and wrappy. Also a little boring, IMO. Nothing wrong with it, per se, but if I was gonna use just this light, I would move it up a little, and maybe off to one side to get some nice modeling.

But as fill, it is ideal for laying down a base exposure and controlling the depth of my shadows when it is time to add the main light.

Okay, so lets add the main light now, in the form of a speedlight equipped with a Honl 1/8" speed grid at upper camera left. The ratio is so tight (not even a stop difference from my fill light) that it is almost not noticeable. But if you look closely, you'll be able to detect a "crispness" around Jessie's face that is not evident in the fill-only photo.

Subtle, to be sure. Maybe too much so. But the point here is that you can easily control the main-to-fill ratio, and get crisp, subtle looks from lights you normally associate with being sharp and edgy.

But the beauty in laying down fill light with a second flash is not only in being able to choose the quality, but also the ratio between the fill and the main. By simply dialing down the umbrella'd flash, you can set your internal contrast level wherever you want.

You do not need nice, even ambient to do this, either. SInce you are establishing your lighting environment with a second, soft flash, this can be done anywhere you can get a couple of stops up over the ambient. This is any indoor wall, for instance.

As you can see in this setup shot, the umbrella (a Westcott double-fold shoot-thru) is establishing a splotch of soft fill light and the grid spot is coming in to highlight her face. (My shooting position was tucked up under the umbrella.)

You do not have to stop with just establishing a lighting ratio, either. You can cool the fill light and warm up the main, too. In fact, in this shot I threw a 1/4 CTO gel on the gridded flash to accent her face a little more.

Looking at the top photo again, you should easily see all of the pieces for this lighting scheme easily falling into place: Lay down a nice, soft, neutral-colored fill. Drop it a coupla stops. Add in some warmed up grid at upper camera left to spotlight the face. Done.

Jessie has a great bone structure, and can take a little bit of edge in her light. I could do the same lighting scheme with a less forgiving face, but I would probably tighten the ratio up a bit. That way, you can go with a little edge to your light and still be kind to someone's face if they need it.

The takeaway from parts one and two is to be aware of both the quality and quantity of your fill, whether it is natural ambient or something you create yourself.

By gaining control over the fill first, you create exactly the palette you want when you add the final main light.

NEXT: Night Chopper, Pt. 1


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Anonymous Anonymous said...

David - what's the difference between the 1/8 grid and the 1/4 grid. Would a snoot also give the same effect?

May 15, 2008 2:49 AM  
Anonymous Wedding Photographer France said...

Excellent post! I really like how you explain things step by step and the fact that you added the setup.

The end result is very nice.

I never think about those 1/4 CTO... always work in fulls.


May 15, 2008 5:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting textures and the light is appealing. I do find the double shadows to be distracting. Would setting the grid strobe directly above the umbrella control the shadows to only one side?

May 15, 2008 8:21 AM  
Anonymous Wedding photographer France said...


I think a snoot to a large extent has the same effect. A honeycomb grid is simply much more compact - it gives you a snoot effect in a tiny format.

Please note that I'm talking about my own DIY versions. Maybe manufactured stuff is more efficient?

May 15, 2008 9:02 AM  
Blogger John said...

What's with the Honl grid ($25) -- what happened to DIY w/ drinking straws, corrugated and duct-tape?!

May 15, 2008 10:31 AM  
Anonymous Scott said...

Thanks for another great post. I've been learning a lot from your blog.

Is it safe to assume that when you are killing the ambient like this and only working with your strobes that you are using the flash WB setting?


May 15, 2008 10:51 AM  
Anonymous flomei (Florian Meier) said...

Hi David!
First of all let me say it always impresses me to have a look at your shots and the other good ones published on this site. It is great to have the chance to look behind the curtain of professionals. Thank you a lot for that!

As I am beginning to become some little Strobist-user (groupie, fan, whatever you´d like to call it... ;-D) I was looking for some low priced equipment which seems to be quite hard to find in Germany.

Now I found a company who could offer me what I wanted.

I got two lightstands (190 cm height and quite leightweight - about 1300 g) and also a pair of umbrella holders (puh, forget the right name, sorry, you surely know what I mean...).
The lightstand was 19,64 Euro (incl. taxes per each) and the umbrella-holder-thing (still don´t get the name) 17,85 Euro (incl. taxes per each).

They have quite a lot of other stuff you can use as a strobist (bunch of adapters and cables, clamps, more lightstands, permanent light equipment, lots of things) although they focus on analogue photography (they have really a bunch full of darkroom (yeah, that photo one) equipment on stock...).

The company is called "Fotoimpex" and is placed in Berlin. You can reach their website under http://www.fotoimpex.de.
They have a downloadable catalogue and you can easily order online or by telephone.
Shipping is also quite fast.

I think it´s a good choice if you are a strobist-groupie (;-D) and placed in Germany.

Maybe you could grant this information a bit space in one of your next entries or somewhere else on your site. I would really appreciate that because getting lighting stuff in Germany normally seems to be very expensive. :-(

Thanks and keep up the great work! :-)

May 15, 2008 11:46 AM  
Anonymous Robert said...

A very nice and informative post. Another great example that you don't need those big-name expensive strobes. Also, it makes the subject more relaxed with their eyes wide open, when you bring them into the shade. Keep up the good work.

May 15, 2008 1:15 PM  
Blogger Mick O said...

Is the part about taming the lightstands and umnrellas in breezy conditions coming in part 3? :-)

May 15, 2008 1:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Seattle's got nothing on Arizona Strobist.....
From Don Gianatti's Lighting Essentials workshop in Mexico. Please do not publish this as a comment.
Jim Vigileos (jcvigi on flickr)

May 15, 2008 6:47 PM  
Anonymous Harry said...

I was wondering about that too! I've tried using my bag, rocks, carrying water weight bags, etc ... Still loving the posts David, I always walk away with some tidbit or other.

May 15, 2008 9:16 PM  
Blogger Michael said...


This may be a dumb question. I but I don’t know how to get some measured amount (say two stops) below the “ambient” light when we are using the umbrella’d strobe for ambient. I know that when I am trying for say two stops under ambient light I can just use the meter on the camera to tell me when I get there. But with a flash overpowering the ambient light the camera meter obviously doesn’t work. So how can I get a consistent amount under exposed when using flash light as fill? I guess that I could just do it by eye. But I don’t get any consistency that way. A meter would work, but I don’t really want to buy one of those. What do you guys do?


May 15, 2008 11:20 PM  
Anonymous wedding photographer france said...


I'm based in France and ordered from Midwest in the US. Service is great, prices including shipment very reasonable and custom taxes are OK.


May 16, 2008 6:42 AM  
Anonymous lomoseb said...

To michael :

Two stops underexposed for an ambient created by flash means that you under power your flash two times : if you're at 1/1 go to 1/4

May 16, 2008 12:27 PM  
Anonymous Harry said...


If you are using manual flash, adjust your f-stop until your "ambient" flash is where you want it. If you're using ttl, dial the exposure compensation down to -2 or -3 or wherever it looks good to you. You would still adjust your f-stop as you are trying to overpower the available light. Even when using a meter I would adjust the exposure until it looked right.

May 16, 2008 1:00 PM  
Blogger James said...

Good write up with good instruction but what do you mean by this?

"I could do the same lighting scheme with a less forgiving face, but I would probably tighten the ratio up a bit. That way, you can go with a little edge to your light and still be kind to someone's face if they need it."

May 16, 2008 7:58 PM  
Blogger tangcla said...

To the first commenter - the 1/8" grid produces a tighter beam than the 1/4" grid.

May 17, 2008 11:49 AM  
Anonymous JessieX said...

Thanks for the photos, Dave. And for the opportunity to myself in a new light, literally and figuratively.

I've always been a big camera-phobe, feeling edgy and uncomfortable. Your direction -- to relax and think interesting thoughts -- made it easy and enjoyable. Plus, I really like the results.

May 18, 2008 8:53 PM  
Anonymous Jerry Ferguson said...

This method works like a charm. I used it on some engagement photos a couple weeks ago, and it was super easy, particularly indoors where the ambient was difficult to work with - flat and boring.

Funny thing is, I hadn't seen this post yet, but figured that this was the best way to get the particular look I wanted.

It really is just common-sense building-blocks like David says. If you put them all together, you can actually get something that is very close to what you imagined.

May 20, 2008 8:59 PM  
Anonymous JoeyB said...

I had never thought of constructing the lighting in the photograph "backwards" before reading this post... Excellent, excellent idea! And it works very well!

May 22, 2008 2:33 AM  
Anonymous Fotograf Wrocław said...

Your work is inspirational..
The end result is very nice.

Best redgards

May 26, 2008 9:07 AM  

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