Buy One, Get Two Free

Apropos to Tuesday's light balancing discussion is Imationx2006's portrait shot in the water at sunset, which popped up in the Strobist Flickr pool this week. But there's a little more going on here than just light balancing.

On her face it's easy to reverse engineer the light size, and position, thanks to the shadow under the chin. But what's with the fuller, more pearly light on the skin closer to the water? And what of the "white plexiglass" look in the foreground? Spend a moment reverse engineering the light, and then click through to jump to read about all of the variables at play.

One Flash, Three Effects

Alright, let's take a look at everything that is going on here. First, the speedlight (a PW'd Canon 580ex) is firing into a 45" silver umbrella. So you are going to have a nice, soft light source. But this looks a little smoother and fuller than the typical high-umbrella sort of light. That's because there are two reflectors filling the shadows - the water and the sand.

From the model's perspective, the water is throwing back a specular reflection of the umbrella (from the low side.) It's about a stop and a half dimmer from the looks of things. And the sand is throwing back a diffuse reflection, which is larger and softer and dimmer than that of the umbrella's reflection via the water.

Pretty nice set of lights you have there, huh?

Additionally, you have that cool, plexiglass thing happening in the foreground. That's the sand, being lit underwater, and throwing back enough light to be visible even over the water-reflected sunset background. What determines where the through-the-water sand overpowers the sunset, and vice-versa?

Simple. Highest tonal value wins. In case of a tie, you get a namby-pamby mix. Which can be cool, too. And if you spread a piece of black tarp under water for her to sit on, the reflected sunset would own the foreground.


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