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Mixing Ambient Light With Strobes.

Image by Thomas Ingersoll

Image by Thomas Ingersoll

Blending ambient light with strobes can be deceivingly tricky. In this post, commercial photographer, Thomas Ingersoll shares some helpful tips.

Find Your Ambient Light First
The first thing you should do is evaluate your scene. Study where your ambient light is coming from. This is crucial to understanding where to add your strobes. I will try to utilize the ambient light as much as I can, I want the ambient light to do most the work for my scene. I will meter for the ambient light then slightly underexpose the subject. This makes sure the ambient light is providing my scene with the proper fill light that is needed, and once I add the strobes they will give me the sharpness and control that I desire. Also, make sure there is enough ambient light. I usually won’t mix the two if I have to shoot above ISO800.

Add One Light At A Time
Whenever using strobes, you want to add one light at a time. Your overall look will determine the number of strobes you need, but always add one at a time and make sure each strobe has a function. First was the ambient light. Now you will start to add strobes into the scene. When mixing ambient light with strobes I will use 1 or 2 strobes; I don’t find myself needing more than two strobes.

Match Light Direction
Matching the light direction is essential. I will assess where the ambient light is coming from and use my strobes to compliment it. So if I have a big window on the left, I will put my key light on the left as well. Then if I need a fill light (to fill in the shadows) it will be on the right or behind me. This will make your scene much more believable and natural.

Use Strobes Subtly
When combining strobes and ambient light you want to ask yourself how will strobes benefit the scene. My goal is to make the scene look almost as if it was just natural light. I try to use strobes almost as a fill light. Use the strobes at a very low power. I see a lot of photographers go wrong here. They will crank up the power on the strobes and lose most of the ambient light. It’s also important to have strobes that will go low enough in power for these types of shoots. This is why I love the Profoto B1X’s and D2’s. They go low enough in power to seamlessly blend the two worlds.   


Light Color
It’s important to match the color of your ambient light with the strobes. I will use gels to match my strobes color temperature to the ambients color temperature.

Use Soft Modifiers
Using softer modifiers will also make the image look less strobed. Remember bigger modifiers means softer light. Softer light blends much easier than harsh light. I often use two lights to make sure the strobes are soft and transition nicely between each other and the ambient light. My favorite modifier right now for soft light is a Profoto large deep white umbrella with the diffusion. This thing is creamy soft and has the most beautiful light fall off I’ve seen in a modifier. For a fill, I will use a large white V-flat or a 6x6’ scrim. Bouncing light off walls or surfaces is another great way to subtly add more light into your scene.

Harmonize the Lights
The strobes and ambient light should compliment each other. You have to find that balance and let each side do its job. The light direction, color, and softness all need to match between the ambient and the strobes.