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Flash + Ambient Balance

Lesson 31 from: Incredible Engagement Photography

Pye Jirsa

Flash + Ambient Balance

Lesson 31 from: Incredible Engagement Photography

Pye Jirsa

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Lesson Info

31. Flash + Ambient Balance

Summary (Generated from Transcript)

In this lesson, the instructor discusses the concept of flash to ambient balance in engagement photography. He explains that flash can look natural and demonstrates how to achieve a natural look by adjusting the amount of flash in relation to existing ambient light. The instructor provides examples and explanations of how to balance flash and ambient light in various scenarios, including indoor shots with window light, backlit shots, and outdoor shots with direct sunlight. He also emphasizes the importance of pre-visualizing the desired shot and using available tools and gear to achieve the desired lighting effect.


  1. What is flash to ambient balance?

    Flash to ambient balance refers to the technique of balancing the amount of flash used with the existing ambient light in a scene to create a natural or dramatic effect in engagement photography.

  2. Can flash look natural in photography?

    Yes, flash can look natural if it is added in subtle increments to the existing light and if the amount of flash used is adjusted based on the amount of ambient light present in the scene.

  3. How can flash be used to enhance backlighting in a shot?

    Flash can be used to enhance backlighting by adding additional light to the scene to retain richness and color in the sky and create a natural look. A gel can also be used to mimic the warmth of sunlight.

  4. How does the distance of the flash from the subjects affect the lighting effect?

    When the flash is back far, it outlines the subjects and creates a more dramatic lighting effect. When the flash is pulled in closer, it bounces off clothing and other objects in the scene, creating a wrapping light effect and a more natural look.

  5. What is the benefit of pre-visualizing a shot?

    Pre-visualizing a shot allows the photographer to plan and imagine the desired lighting and overall look of the image before actually taking it. This can save time and effort in the shooting and post-processing process.


Class Trailer

Class Introduction


Posing Guidance for Him


Posing Guidance for Her


Foundational Posing


Posing Touch Points


Couples Body Language


Posing Three Point Check


Posing Tips with Demo


Lesson Info

Flash + Ambient Balance

So, we're going to be working through the shots that we did in, this was actually in Redlands, California today. So we're gonna go Redlands, California, Redlands University, and then we're going downtown. And if you guys haven't kinda got it by now, the whole motif of these shoots that we've done, Motif? Is that a word? It is now. Put it in your dictionaries, guys. The whole kind of style or what we're going for is city-based shoots, okay? For this first shoot that we're going to be getting into it's styled kind of after a, kind of romantic country couple. Like, we kind of have it very, their clothing is kind of styled for that nature, so we kind of went into it with this "Carrie Underwood" kind of look for their clothing and so forth. We'll get in that. But what I want to talk about first is this. Flash to ambient balance. In our foundations portion we did a lot of flash in the studio and kind of demonstrated what you can do by subtracting light from a scene, right? We subtract light ...

from a scene and you imagine it in your eyes how you subtract that and add it back with a flash in certain places. And once you've kind of pre-visualized it then you go and you execute. This is the important piece to remember and we referred to it a little bit when we were discussing it, was flash to ambient balance. Most people are under the assumption that flash cannot look natural. That's not necessarily true. Flash can look as natural as you want it to. The two things that are important is if you're working in a scene that has a lot of existing light. If you have a lot of light present then the amount of light that you add needs to be small if you want it to retain a natural look. So what we have on this is as we push to the ambient side, as we push to more ambient light, if we want a natural effect, we do less flash. This gives us a natural appearance to an image. If we subtract out ambient light and we start adding additional light to it, adding more flash to it, we get a more dramatic effect in your images. So if you love film and shooting kind of that natural look we have a lot of different tutorials that we've created where you can create natural flairs, you can create natural rim lighting, you can do all sorts of great things including a little bit of fill with flash. It's just that we're adding it in very subtle increments to the existing light to make it look still natural. So let's go on to our next guy. I have some demonstrations here. So what this means is this is a client shoot that we actually did. She's actually a coordinator that hired us to go and do this portrait session with her. She said that they loved doing kind of Sunday morning breakfast and brunch. And so we actually did a stylized kind of, we referred to it as like a lifestyle shoot because it's basically a styled shoot that's geared around their lifestyle, what they would typically do. They're really fun to do because they have a lot of meaning to the couple. I love lifestyle shoots. But we wanted to go for a very natural look and so what you'll see on the left is actually a test shot. So they had some of the food kind of played in there. I just took a quick test shot just to see what the back lighting or what the window light looked like in this shot. And what you'll notice is, there's quite a bit of light on the table and we actually see the green and some of the color in the sky in the shot. And as soon as I saw that I went, you know what? Our flash balance is too high right now. We're gonna get a dramatic look to this image because we're cutting out too much ambient light. So we basically raised the ambient exposure by one to two stops in-camera. And then lowered down the flash power. And we get to this raw file right here where we're letting the background blow out for the majority. We have a little bit of green in the trees and stuff like that coming through. But for the most part it's kind of blown. And then when we go and actually process it, we get a very natural look to the scene. It looks great. It looks very well produced. But it doesn't necessarily look like we've pumped dramatic flash into the shot. It just looks like they had really nice lighting in their home. So let's go to another one. What about cases where we want maybe a little bit more oomph in a backlight and we don't have it? Well this is one of the examples that we're gonna go over. And what we've done here is on the left side we have just natural light. We placed them against the tree so you can that their hair is actually right against a dark object so that way their backlight kind of jumps out. But let's say that you wanted to retain more richness and color to it. We're gonna show you how to underexpose a little bit. So in this left shot you're not gonna see as much color in the sky and so forth as you will on the right shot. In the right shot we've actually placed a flash behind them. We've put a gel under that flash to kind of mimic a little bit of a warmer light that might be coming from the sun. Even though the sun is still daylight it's coming through trees and it has a bit of warmth to it so we put the gel onto it. And we fire that in addition to the sunlight and now we can bring the ambient exposure down a little bit. Retain some of the color here. Still have a natural look. And you wouldn't look at that and go, "That was flashed," right? Cause what we've done there was we actually added light to the existing light direction. Just to kind of pump it up so that way our exposure could kind of drop down a little bit. Okay? Very simple and easy way to use flash and still have it look natural. This is the same shot so now all we've done is from this we pull the flash and we're gonna talk about that, how in the foundation side, remember when we mentioned that if the flash is back far you are outlining your subjects. When the flash is pulled in because that light source becomes larger relative to the subjects even though it's a little flash head as you bring that in it's gonna bounce off clothing. It's gonna bounce off everything in the scene. It's gonna create a wrapping light effect in the shot. So as you pull in and get close we can add flash have a really unique image. And this and this work perfectly together side by side, as you can see. We've added flash to the scene, it still looks natural, and anything that is backlit is still going to work with this. Is that all making sense? Here's a little fashion shot. This is kind of the first time I went out and just played with fashion for fun. We took our model out and went to the desert. And I thought, you know, rather than doing, we talk about this quite a bit, rather than doing just the regular thing of putting their back to the light, that's what we typically would do is to go and find the light, put their back to the light, and then add light to the front and the shadows. Start thinking a little bit different. Maybe the existing light is kind of cool, maybe it's nice, maybe the direction is fine. It's just, rather than putting their back to it, let's add to the existing light. So what we'd done here is we have a flash that's actually just following the direction of existing light. So if our sun is coming from the top right and going down to her face, I have a boomed-out flash held up so it's going in the same direction as the sun. We just move it a little bit to the side so we're not casting the shadow coming from the sun onto the subject so you just move a little bit to one side or the other to prevent that. And when you had that pop of flash to the existing light you'll see that it lifts her out of the page. That's kind of the goal that we've talked about, right? The goal with lighting in general, if you want it to look kind of more natural, you're just adding enough to lift them out a little bit to bring our eyes towards them. We did that in post, too. Go for it, Melissa. Um, on that image, are you using just the flash, or do you have a soft box around it? This is, I believe, I'd have to go back and look at this one, this is, I think, a small soft box on a larger flash. This is actually on our Profoto B1. And to get modified sunlight, or to get modified flash in daytime settings like this, you need a lot of power. You six to eight strobes if you're going to six to eight small flashes if you want to mimic like six to eight of these guys if you want to mimic one studio strobe, like a B1. But, we're going to go through demonstrations actually in this set where we just use hard light from small flashes, you get a great look, too. It's fantastic. And what we get here though, is that chiseled-out look. So as we go and we finalize and process the image we see that what's happened by adding the light is we've added dodging and burning in-camera. That's literally what you do when you dodge and burn, right? You go and you brighten up highlights, you go and you darken down the shadows, you might fill some shadows here and there and kind of even things out. If you can do that in-camera, would it not save you several steps in post? Now, we still have some work to do in post to kind of clean up and retouch and so forth, but we have the majority of the work done for us. So this is essentially dodging and burning following the existing light just in regular daylight. We're gonna talk about that as we go through. Okay, we've talked about this. Using the tools that you have on you, right? In the foundational side, we showed you guys this image, we're like, "This is natural." There is the settings for it, so I think I got it right. 1/4 of a second, hand-held, f/1.4 at ISO 3200. This is 1/20 of second, hand-held, f/1.4 at ISO 3200 with an iPhone light. So they're just positioned and I just bring the light into a position where we can have dramatic light on him. We have a nice direct flat light on her. We make sure that we watch the set shadows closely and we can use whatever we have on us to get the kind of light that we need. So if you guys are at home right now and you're seeing these techniques being used and you're wondering, "Well, how would I do this with just the limited gear that I have?" This is where I would say ask questions, ask why and how right now. And also look into our other courses that we brought into Creative Live. In Photography 101, we do everything with less than $500 photography gear. We teach people from the ground up getting into manual mode, and going forward we build on the most basics. And we'll talk about that a little bit as we go. So as you approach a scene, this is what I want you guys to pre-visualize. By the way, I use pre-visualize a lot because it's such a powerful technique. I like to race cars, I do that for fun, it's my hobby. And we're actually, me and Justin are racing instructors so we teach people how to do high performance driving. It's really fun. And one of the techniques that racecar drivers use is they pre-visualize a race. And what that literally means is they will sit down in a seat. I'm gonna do this, watch this. I'm gonna sit down right here. And this is how you pre-visualize. You actually have your feet up like you're controllling the pedals. You control the steering wheel and you close your eyes and you're actually going to drive the track in your mind, pre-visualizing where you want to brake, where you want to add gas, and go through the entire track in your head. Now studies have been done on this where when you pre-visualize something, it is equivalent to actually doing it. So, the studies, they said that they took people and they said "Well, we're going to take one group and they're not going to do any studying whatsoever. We're going to take another group, they're actually going to race and they're going to drive the track. We're going to take another group, and all they're going to do is just pre-visualize." The performance of the racing and the pre-visualization one was equal. These guys didn't do anything, so they suffered on their times. So this technique is so powerful that as you get used to this, and as you literally walk into a scene, if you need to, close your eyes, take a mental picture, close your eyes. Think about it for a second. What if I take that shot, naturally exposed for daytime, this is what it's gonna look like. What if I reduce that? Well, the white's gonna kind of turn to a gray. The greens in the shadows are gonna turn to kind of a darker green in shadows. Perfect. What if I actually shifted now the white balance in-camera? I want it to be more blue. I want to shoot day for night. We're gonna do this day for night shot in the class. So if I shift to blue, everything's going to go to more of a blue tone. With my eyes closed, I want to see about how far I can walk. Whoa! See how well I know the set right now. I like, stumble into you guys, that'd be awesome. If you can do that in your mind, it eleviates the need to take tons of test shots of stuff. But the only thing is that it takes a little bit of practice to kind of get used to this. So we actually take daytime, we're gonna turn it to nighttime by simple ambient exposure settings that we're gonna do. And we're going to create a really cool, dramatic shot with that. This is the shot we'll make, okay? This is step one in the shot which I love and I dig as well. This is step two, finding a foreground element and using it to frame the scene which I dig, too. This is that shot of using hard light. We're using, how do you shoot in direct light and get a cool, dramatic image? Again, this is direct sunlight, noon. This is noonday sunlight. We put them right in that light, something you never do. We add light to them using that direct light technique that we did on that model. This is with three small pocket strobes. It's three small flashes. I call these guys pocket strobes. Is that not okay? I like pocket strobes, isn't that cute? It fits in your pocket? I know it's not the right word for it, they're called flashes, whatever you want to call them. But they are strobes and they fit in your pocket. My jeans are like skin-tight, these do not fit in my jeans. (laughter)

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Pre-Shoot Videos
Keynote 1
Keynote 2
Presets Installation Guide
Gear Guide
Favorite Software
Lightroom Presets

Ratings and Reviews

CPR Photography

I think Pye Jirsa is one of the best, if not the best, instructor for photography on Creative Live. He is very personable, smart and approachable. He has a perfect blend of personality (comments, laughs, tangents..) to the amount of instruction. He asks the questions for you, because he knows you are thinking those questions right then. He's very good about identifying settings, gear, etc.. and not leaving us in the dark about how he "got the shot". He goes into great detail. His instructions flow, but are linear, which is helpful. He's very organized, and you can tell that he really put a lot of work into his presentations (slides, video, test shoots, live teaching, graphics, etc..) I have been listening to him for like 10 hours straight, and still haven't gotten tired of him. He keeps things moving, He's very funny too. Nice job, I've learned so much. :)

a Creativelive Student

This course was AMAZING. I'd say int he past year or two I've fallen into a slump. Uninspired by my surroundings and uninspired by my clients. As a result, it showed through my work. My posing suffered as well and more than a handful of times some of my shoots became more than awkward. Then I bought this course and watched most of it in the course of a day. I walked away inspired, blown away, and renewed. The next day I walked into an engagement session confident. I gave my couples a quick overview on posing and then we just had fun in front of the camera. Immediately afterwards they texted me about how amazing their shoot was and how relaxed I made them feel about posing. The photos turned out fantastic to say the least. I've since shot several more engagement sessions and each one of them has been amazing. If anything, this course should inspire photographers to think outside the box and provide you with the necessary skills to take incredible engagement photos. Thank you Pye and Creative Live! I cannot speak more highly of this course. I should also state I purchased Pye's Natural Light course on SLR Lounge: this course is a wonderful addition to that. If you already own the natural light course and are hesitant about purchasing this one, don't. Buy it and reap the benefits!


This is by far one of the best courses I have taken. Pye makes learning fun and easy to understand. I feel like I have learned so much throughout the course, that I have truly advanced my photography skills. I am so excited to get out there and try so many of the techniques that he showed. I would love to take another course of his. The pricing for the course doesn't even compare to how wonderful the education truly is, I really got more than my money's worth on this one.

Student Work