Mixing ambient and flash

We've recently been experimenting with balancing ambient light and flash. Thanks to the wealth of information on Strobist and some of the examples in Joe McNally's books, we're finding it pretty straightforward to add a little pop to an image or use light for creative effect. We wanted to share a couple sample images and explain the process we went through to arrive at the final result.

In this first photo, the sun was behind and to the left of the kids. It was pretty early in the morning, so the sun was pretty low in the sky and giving the left sides of their heads a nice golden highlight. Unfortunately, their eyes and the shadows on their faces were a bit too dark. Because the basic exposure was pretty good, I kept it as metered and added just a flick of flash (dialed down a stop or so) to fill in some of the shadows and provide a a slight catch light to their eyes. The flash was also aimed above their heads to feather the light a little bit. The result is an image that looks naturally lit; the flash is nearly invisible.

San Diego Children's Photographer

NikonD700/24-70mm 2.8 @ 50mm | 1/500s | f5.6 | ISO500

In this next image, we were feeling a bit more adventurous and wanted to try some of the examples from The Hot Shoe Diaries. Though the sky looks like dusk, the image was actually taken around 2:30pm. First, we set the camera's white balance to tungsten, which shifted everything to blue, and also underexposed the image by -1 stop to get the sky even darker. The main light is an off-camera speedlight (triggered via Nikon CLS) shooting through a white umbrella just out of frame on the right side. To compensate for the darker image, we added +2 stop to the flash output setting.

At this point, the entire image is still blue since the flash is daylight-balanced. To get Ainsley back to the right color, we added a CTO gel (orange color) to the front of the flash. She comes out properly lit, but everything else stays blue.

San Diego Baby Photographer

NikonD700/24-70mm 2.8 @ 38mm | 1/250s | f10 | ISO200