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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