Flash basics – Lighting two planes

If you don’t know the strobist, you should have a look at David Hobby’s excellent blog. A newspaper photographer by trade, David shares a lot of information about the way he lights and shoots.

I initially found his blog to be hard to navigate, but since I found his lighting 101 and 102 courses, I’ve found it a lot easier. I already had an idea of flash when I found his blog, but I wanted to practice his philosophy of shooting, and I’ve tried to showcase that a bit in the pictures below.

I used flash on this occasion because I had a dynamic range problem. I went to a wedding and wanted to capture a picture of my wife who was one of the bridesmaids. We were in a hotel on the beach, so it seemed natural to try and capture her with our view of the sea in the background.

Seemed the perfect opportunity to try the Hobby process.

Step one, take a picture of the ambient light on auto mode. So I tried this, but auto mode kept trying to use the pop up flash, so I settled on program mode. The shot below is the only picture I have ever taken on program mode.


Then you note the settings for this exposure, which turned out to be ISO 100, 1/250s and f/9. This is the exposure I need to maintain to keep the background looking natural.

The only thing I need to check here is that the shutter speed is at or slower than than the sync speed. These settings are fine as 1/250s is my sync speed for my camera.

As it turns out, this is the exposure I left. I switched the camera to manual mode and input those settings. The next exposure was without flash, but with my model/wife.


There is just enough detail in the dress that if I really had to I could recover some data in Lightroom.

This is a fairly typical backlit portrait without flash. Once you add the flash in though:


I think this was with the flash at 1/4 power bounced off a wall camera left, I wanted the light to scrape over the dress for some shadows to bring the texture out. This is still a tad underexposed, and the flash would need to be bumped to full power. For a head and shoulders shot, you can see where I needed more power.


The great thing about this is that everything looks natural. The background is perfectly exposed, and because of the way I’m using the flash, it doesn’t look like it was taken indoors.

Hopefully this shows how lighting two planes works. If I had more time, I would probably have tried to add a hair light to light the hair from behind, but otherwise a nice picture and a good demonstration of how to light the different planes in a picture.

Further, I could have possibly thought about gelling the lights, but I had no gels anyway so a moot point.

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