For as long as I can remember, off camera lighting wasn’t for everyone. The inverse-square law, sync speed, modifiers, the list goes on. The barrier of entry wasn’t price, it was an understanding of light, something you can’t see but must somehow understand the way it cuts through space and affects your image. But now we’re in a era of technology where TTL dissolves these conceptual barriers and high speed sync removes the physical ones. With Profoto’s new Air Remote TTL-F, the potential of the Fujifilm GFX 50S has been unlocked in its entirety and we can now realize all of our creative dreams. For me, that dream comes true when lighting is used to compliment natural light rather than overpower it for a portrait that looks natural. The best part is it takes only one light and a simple process to achieve it consistently.
It starts with ambient light, this is the foundation to build from. Before using the flash, I expose the shot for my subject instead of the highlights. I’m not concerned about blown out areas since they always occur in natural light photos. I’m much more concerned about the shadows on my subject being far too dark compared to the areas where the light reaches. Keeping this difference small keeps the image natural, feeling untouched and unaltered. Making this difference too large will give the feeling of shining a flashlight on someone in a dimly lit room. I’m also not afraid to darken the ambient exposure every so often as it will make the light more pronounced and create more separation between my subject and the background.
With the ambient exposure set, finding the right angle for good natural light for my subject comes next. Off camera lighting isn’t a bandage to cover up mediocre light, it’s the red paint that shows off the flowing lines of a classic sports car. In overcast and flat lighting I’ll often try to get the natural light splitting my subject’s face into two. With one half of the face lighter than the other, it makes a great starting point. When the sun is too bright with harsh shadows, I’ll often place my subject’s back to the sun, using the sun a rim light and lightening her hair while giving me a relatively flat face to start with.
Next, placing the light is a simple process. By placing the light where the sun is coming from, it ensures that the light is helping the natural light rather than fighting it from the opposite direction. As a general starting point, double or triple the diameter of the light’s modifier and place the light that far away from the subject. With the OCF 2’ Beauty Dish, my light is usually four to six feet away. With larger modifiers I’ll try to keep the distance no further than 1.5x the diameter.
Lastly, aiming the light. Aiming the center of the light directly at the subject can lead to a bright spot, but this is easily mitigated by feathering the light. This is achieved by offsetting the light so the center of it passes in front of the subject. This produces a smoother gradient of light across the skin, which softens the shadows as well. I bring the light far enough forward so the entire modifier is in front of my subject. From there, I can move it forward or backwards to adjust how much it spills over the subject's face.
Throughout this entire process I haven’t mentioned shutter speed, aperture, or ISO at all and this was done purposely. TTL metering has come a long way in producing consistent exposures shot to shot and getting a great baseline flash output. With that being said, I’ll often set the flash exposure compensation between -4 to -2. TTL will try to make the flash so bright that it perfectly exposes the image, but this is always too pronounced in my images as I try to subtly add it to enhance a natural light photo. HSS has removed any limitation with shutter speed, but do keep in mind that each time you increase your shutter speed by a stop, the output of a light will need to increase by a stop as well. This is where the 500Ws of the Profoto B1 shows it’s true worth while out on location on a bright and sunny day.