How To {Mix Ambient Light with One Flash}

Welcome to this week’s installment, of our how-to tutorials! This week, we’ll be discussing what to do, when you have all this beautiful ambient light, but you know you need to strobe in order to expose for your subjects correctly.

For this particular example, we were at the Santa Monica Pier after it had gotten dark. The ferris wheel lights were on, and the sky was very ominous looking as the clouds rolled in. We knew we wanted to capture the ferris wheel lights and the texture in the sky, so we first metered for that, and we ended up at 1/15th of a second at f/5 (the sun had gone down about 45 minutes prior to this, so it was pretty dark at ISO 400). It’s important to note that when you are working with strobes, you always want to shoot on manual. Just keep adjusting your settings until the ambient light (ferris wheel, sky, etc.) looks how you want it (minus the flash).

Once we found our camera setting, we noticed that there was a street lamp nearby, which, since we only had one light with us, we would use as our key light or main light. Since the key light/street light was “bare bulb” meaning, non-directional, light would sort of spill onto David’s face by bouncing off of Shannon’s dress. Finally, to add a bit of separation from the background, we put our strobe behind our subjects to add a rim light, which gives them an etherial glow. To find the correct flash power, you can either use a light meter (we use the Sekonic 358) and keep triggering your flash until the light meter matches what your camera settings are, OR you can start at the lowest power, and gradually increase it with each click of the shutter until you get the image you want.

Putting the strobe in front of our subjects, because we didn’t have any sort of modifier to control the light, would’ve caused light to spill onto more of the background, losing that romantic feel to the image. The image would’ve also worked though, without the street lamp, but would’ve turned out to be more of a silhouette shot.

The image straight out of camera looked like this:

If you have any questions about anything, or recommendations for future posts, feel free to leave them in a comment below or email me at Thank you!


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