At the recent Presentation Summit, I had the opportunity to take 15 presentation professionals/amateur photographers on a field trip to Pacific Beach in San Diego. One of the concepts I hoped to teach was balancing ambient light with flash ala the Strobist.
An unsuspecting model strolled down the beach towards our group. As you can see we had dramatic skies and very soft light. With my instructor’s outfit on, I felt confident in approaching the young lady and asking her for a little impromptu modeling session. Turns out she was actually a model! Five minutes later, we sent her on her way with my business card in-hand. Yes, she did email me and yes, I did send her a picture! Always carry your business cards with you and always send pictures if requested.
I positioned myself low to get that amazing sky behind her. I was shooting with an on-camera flash helped out by a strobo-frame rig to get the light slightly off-camera. You can see by the shadows that the light was really soft. (It turned out this was the only glimpse of sun we would have that day).
Working from the top left, I took a camera-metered exposure and examined it. I thought the clouds were much brighter than what I wanted. I was after drama. I dialed back the exposure compensation until the clouds were dark and brooding. You can see in the top right image that the sky is much better but I lost most of the detail in the model’s face. I took note of the settings and switched the camera to manual and duplicated the aperture and shutter speed.
In the lower left shot, I layered in some low-power flash on top of my manual exposure. If memory serves, it was somewhere in the neighborhood of 1/32nd to1/16th power. Though an improvement, I decided I wanted a little more light. I amped up the power a little more on the flash and ended up with the image you see bottom right. Realistic skin tones and great sky were the result.
As long as the light stayed similar and I watched my subject-to-camera distance, these settings were gold. I could go up and down the beach shooting my fellow photogs as they struck their varied heroic poses.
For dramatic foreboding skies, crank your exposure back and add a touch of flash to those people in the foreground who make or break the shot.
Rikk Flohr © 2010