Get Creative for Additional Light Sources

If you only have one off-camera flash setup, you may feel limited in what you can accomplish by mixing strobe and ambient. But that all depends on how creative you are at scrounging for good ambient light sources.

Take the computer-LCD shot above, shot by DBR Photography, which did not even make use of a flash. While I understand that many of you do not have two identical iMacs sitting around (let alone the bikini-clad model) I'll bet most of you have access to my favorite location continuous light source.

(More after the jump.)


See if you can find the scrounged backlights cleverly hidden in this picture.

Did you guess the cars? If you did, you are correct.

Any time you are doing a night (or twilight) shot on location somewhere you may have very well driven a powerful pair of backlights to get there. And it does not have to be a pair, either, as it is very easy to unplug a car headlight to leave just one.

Astragony left them in the frame (to cool effect) but you do not have to. They are great for throwing a raking side/back light across the frame from well off-camera. In this capacity, they can both add texture to a scene and create a separation light on the shadow side of your subject.

Are they bright enough?

Well, yeah. You can make them as bright as you want if you leave the shutter open long enough. This is basic light balancing stuff -- just open that shutter and let the continuous light burn in.

Depending on your tax bracket, you car's headlights might even have a daylight-balanced color temperature, too. Although they are most likely balanced to tungsten. You can work around this in several ways:

• Leave the headlights as tungsten and work in daylight balance with flash. (Just let those headlights go super warm.)

• Gel the flash with a CTO and set your camera's balance to tungsten. This has the added bonus of shifting any lingering daylight-based ambient to blue for more color contrast.

• Gel the headlamp(s) with a CTB gel (Color Temperature Blue -- opposite of CTO) and work in daylight balance. This makes everything daylight balanced.

As far as direction is concerned, you are not limited to backlight with the headlamps. You could shoot your subject in front of a 2-d backdrop (like a wall) with your car parked right behind you, double-front-fill style. Someone shot in profile could look really cool with the flash coming from the side (better yet -- slightly behind on the side) to define the face against that front-light fill.

(Bonus points: Gobo the flash so it does not strike the background, popping some sidelight on the subject that stands out against the background shadow of half of the front-light duo.)

You can even balance with quickly dimming twilight, too. But there is some timing involved. Here are your variables:

• Flash, which is constant and is adjusted by the aperture (or dialing it up or down with manual control.)

• Headlights, constant and adjusted by shutter/aperture combo.

• Twilight, which will be sinking quickly and cares about the shutter and the aperture.

Here's how I would do it. First of all, understand the twight/flash balancing technique, as this process adds a layer of timing to that.

Start early. Set up the environment for your shot, and nail down your poses and angles you'll want as you wait for the sun to cooperate.

Basically, as the ambient and headlight start to come into balance (headlights are constant and the ambient is sinking) you'll be exposing for the flash with the aperture and constantly opening up your shutter to expose for the sinking ambient light.

Through this time, the headlamps will remain constant, so they will have the effect of getting relatively brighter and brighter as you open up your shutter to follow the ambient light down. When they get too bright to look right with the ambient twilight, you are done. But you can always change the look and just balance your flash and headlights, letting the twilight go dark.

This window where everything (flash, twilight and headlamps) works comes and goes pretty quickly. You might not be comfy with the process the first time. So practice on a tree or something earlier if the shoot is important.

Have you done a photo using headlights as a second light source? Drop it in our Flickr pool and shoot us a link in the comments.


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