Extend the range and power of your lights for free

Whether you’re using giant Profoto’s or small speedlite’s , you can get a lot more out of them if you plan ahead.

Consider this shot — (larger image):

If you’ve ever used small flashes to light your subject in bright outdoor conditions, you know that you have to put your lights really close to your subject if you want to have any chance of overpowering the sun.

If that made no sense to you, let me explain. New photographers tend to think that when you take your subjects outdoors and into the sun, there’s no longer any need to add light via a flash. I know this is what I thought when I first started out. A flash was meant for use at night or when you’re in a dark room, right? In fact, I used to snicker when I saw photographers using lights outside in the bright sun.

Truth be told, if you’re shooting out in the bright sun, lights are pretty much required, especially if you want to darken your sky.

Why Darken the Sky?

I like to darken my skies because you only start to see the colors of the sky when you underexpose them a little. Try it, go out and shoot a sky at with your light meter perfectly in the middle on the +0  mark, then dial down your aperture or shutter one full stop and take another shot. Then stop it down another full stop and take a third photo. You’ll see that the more you underexpose your skies the more colorful they become.

OK, so I’ve darkened my sky and now my subjects’ faces are even darker, now what?

If you’re shooting outdoors in contrast-y conditions without adding additional light, your options are either underexposed subjects or boring, colorless, overexposed skies.

Now, you could do like I used to do and shoot in RAW and then spend all day doing layers and masking in Photoshop to brighten up their faces and darken the sky.

Or you can do it in camera by pumping some additional light on your subject and reduce your “butt time” considerably.

But wait a minute, couldn’t I just have my model facing the sun?

Yeah, no problem, I suppose you can do that. But I suspect that you’re most likely going to end up with portraits of uncomfortable people with squint-y faces and watery eyes and tiny, tiny pupils. And you’d still have the issue of an over exposed sky behind them.

When are you going to get to the part about extending the range of your flash? 

I’m getting to that, bear with me.

I bring in lights and get the best of both worlds, good light on my subjects and underexposed skies for drama and color. The problem is, unless you are using $10,000 lights (I wish I was exaggerating) you have to keep your lights pretty darn close to your subject, the further you move them away the more compromises you have to make (like having your skies brighter than you had hoped).

This can be pretty limiting, especially to me because I LOVE to shoot in landscape mode at a very wide angle, I often use my 16-35mm lens so I can get the widest angle possible. I do this because my whole “thing” as a photographer is environmental portraiture. I use wide angles to get as much of that environment into my shot as possible.

But if you have small flashes like me, the furthest you can get your light away and still have a chance of overpowering the sun is usually only 2 ~ 4 feet, depending on ambient light conditions. So how did I light the subject in that super wide angle shot above? It was a piece of cake, Photoshop of course!

Napa Photographer

This shot does not defy the laws of physics after all

With Photoshop’s content aware fill I was able to make that light stand disappear in about thirty seconds. So next time you’re out in the wild and your lights just aren’t doing the job, plan on faking it ahead of time and position your lights as close as you like.

If you’re in the greater Bay Area in California, I deliver regular lighting workshops via my Meetup.com group. Stop by sometime and meet me in person. The link below takes you to my group:

American Canyon People Photography + Off Camera Lighting


About The Napa Photographer

I am a Napa California area photographer specializing in portrait and wedding photography. I would describe my style as “environmental portraiture”, I like to shoot on location and try to seek out the most interesting backgrounds.

I am the organizer of a local Meetup.com group, I provide bi-weekly lighting and portrait workshops, you can find my group at:


My main photography site is: http://www.robertbakerphotography.com

I use a Canon 5D and about a dozen Canon 550EX’s triggered with Pocket Wizard Flex TT5′s.

Category(s): off-camera-flash, photoshop, portrait photography

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