At this Jasper House Farms wedding, I wanted to create a scene using the amazing copse of trees near the ceremony site. The area was fairly shady but the background had a lot of highlights from where the sun was peeking through, so I knew I needed to underexpose the ambient light a bit, then use some off-camera flash to put some light back onto the bride. This setup reflects how our eyes would normally process such a contrasty situation but a camera hasn’t been made (yet) that can do so. I could’ve foregone the use of flash, and just exposed for the bride, but that would have meant a great loss of detail in the scene and since the bride had obviously chosen the venue for its beauty, I wanted to include as much of it as I could! I had the bride’s mother hide behind the large tree on the right, holding two Canon 600 EX-RT speedlites behind an umbrella that was aimed at a 45-degree angle to the bride, opposite the direction of the sun, then I shot from far away with my long lens (Canon 70-200mm EF f/2.8L II, stabilized).
There are a number of photographers who eschew anything but ‘available’ light. By this they mean ambient light, using only what’s available without bringing in any of their own, whether on- or off-camera. By all means, I try and use ambient light as often as possible but I almost always add a little flash. Using flash during the daytime is like adding salt to a meal: a little is all you need or it’ll overpower everything, but without it things are rather bland. Why do I add flash most of the time? Mostly it’s to try and replicate what our eyes see, to create an image that looks like it was only made using ‘available’ light. See, the thing is, our eyes can process infinite gradations of light and dark; we can look at an extremely contrasty scene (half in complete sunlight and half in deep shadow) and still see details in both extremes. Cameras, no matter how expensive they are, simply cannot do this. If you’re using only ambient light, half of the image will be unusable in this case. This is where flash comes in. In an extremely contrasty scene like the one mentioned above, using flash will create an image much more similar to how our own eyes perceive it. So when people ask if I like to shoot using only available light, I always tell them yes…because all of my lights are always available to me!
In the three images below, you can see what would happen if I only used available light. The first scene is one where no flash was used; it’s completely dark. I suppose I could’ve mounted my camera on a tripod and taken a 10 second exposure, but that’s really not an option with moving subjects. So what did I do? I brought in two off-camera lights, as you can see in the second image, plus I had a third light on my camera. The final image shows what those off-camera lights can do. What a difference! For those who shoot using only ambient light, they have to put away their gear a few minutes after sunset. For those of us who bring our own lights, we can shoot all night long:)