Gauntlet: Balancing a Strong Strobe with Ambient

By Gary Fong
Photographer: Dawn Pfaff
Click Photos to Enlarge 
Figure 1 
Strong directional light can cause the subject to stand out from the background.  It can set a mood or bring contour to a two-dimensional image.
Dawn Pfaff, is a young photographer exploring photography with the PhotoGenX students in Brazil. She’s having the time of her life, using photography as a cross-cultural experience.
Now for the Nit Picking
Strong light is only one technique to enhance the subject.  Equally important is the context of the subject to background.  A strong side light not only adds contour to what viewers would see as two-dimensional, but it offsets the subject from the background.
Figure 2A few additional ways of offsetting the subject from the background would be to use a long lens, at minimum aperture to produce a shallow depth of field.  It would blur the background, against a relatively sharp focused subject.
A second technique would be to adjust the overall exposure to allow the sky to be richer.  Many photographers make an ambient exposure for a blue sky, then adjust the strobe output to match the aperture setting of the ambient.
An example:
Ambient exposure: ISO 200; shutter speed 1/250; aperture f/16
Strobe output should accommodate: ISO 200; shutter speed (doesn’t matter); f/16
If the ambient light fades, one could adjust the shutter speed down, but leave the aperture at f/16.  Since the shutter speed of the strobe doesn’t matter (up to a point), one could use slow shutter speeds as a creative tool. But that’s another story.
The initial thought is to bring color back into the sky to offset the subject d. One does that by balancing the ambient with the strobe output.  The strong sidelight will add a dimension of color to the dimension of contour. Think about that for a bit…and give it a try.