“Unseeing” Photo Challenge Assignment 6: Supplemental Light

This week, I want YOU to take control of the light! Often, as photographers, we are at the mercy of conditions: natural light, the scene itself, and what our subject is doing are often outside of our control. Unseeing, in large part, is a process of exerting artistic control over conditions, controlling them rather than having them control us. The use of supplemental artificial light is one of the most powerful ways you can tip in your favor this tug-of-war for creative control of the final image.

Remember to join the Photo Challenge Facebook Group to share your shots from this week’s assignment!

I used a hint of fill flash for this photo of a critically-endangered Sumatran orangutan and her infant. Flash helped to bring out the beautiful orange color of their hair, and make them stand out more from their surroundings. Sumatra, Indonesia. Canon 1DXII, Canon 8-15mm f/4 fisheye lens, flash, ISO 400, f/9, 1/40 second.

I use a variety of types of fill light in my photography, but mostly I use flash and spotlights. Reflectors are also useful for adding fill light, working best with static subjects and situations where the photographer can rely on an assistant or photo buddy to lend a hand.

I used flash, aimed by an assistant, for this photo to illuminate a lion resting beneath twilight skies. Masai Mara, Kenya. Canon 5DIV, Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 lens, ISO 640, f/3.2, 1/60 second.

When using flash, I think it is important to avoid an artificial, obviously “flashed” look, so I do several things to soften the light. I reduce the power of the flash, typically setting it to -2 or -3 flash compensation if I am shooting in automatic flash mode (or reducing flash output manually if I am using the flash in manual mode). I will also use a flash grid or a snoot to narrow and focus the beam of light output by the flash. With most flashes, you can also manually zoom the flash in or out, which can help narrow or widen the beam as necessary, although this does not always work as well as a snoot. A flash bracket allows you to get your flash away from the center of the camera to angle the light and add shadows, which usually looks more natural than when the flash is hitting the subject straight on (this also reduces the incidence of “red eye” or “green eye” when photographing human or certain animal subjects).

I used a snoot on my flash to ensure the light only illuminated this proud Maasai man beneath starry skies. Masai Mara, Kenya. Canon 5DIV, Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 lens, ISO 3200, f/2.8, 30 seconds.

You don’t need flash to add supplemental light, you can use other forms of light such as spotlights, flashlights, car headlights, or campfires. I once even used the lights of an incoming airplane on route to Jackson Hole Airport to light a night landscape when photographing in Grand Teton National Park! So, I guess I mean it quite literally when I say the sky’s the limit when it comes to supplemental light (sorry, I just couldn’t resist the pun).

I used a flashlight to creatively illuminate my quiver tree subjects during this night exposure. Quiver Tree Forest, Namibia. Canon 5DIII, Canon 11-24mm f/4 lens, ISO 3200, f/4, 30 seconds.

For this final segment of the Unseeing Photo Challenge, I want to see you get creative with supplemental light. It doesn’t have to be flash; I’d love to see people use their imaginations, and try all kinds of artificial light. As always, don’t just try different types of supplemental light; rather, think critically about how you can use supplemental light to create artistic photos that really connect with viewers. As always, I’ll be watching, and choosing some of my favorites to share with the entire group. Good luck, and enjoy!


About the author: Managing Editor of Outdoor Photography Guide, world-renowned professional photographer and Tamron Image Master Ian Plant is a frequent contributor to leading photo magazines including Outdoor Photographer, Popular Photography, and Landscape Photography Magazine. You can see more of his work and download his free photography how-to eBook “Essential” at www.ianplant.com.

Ready for your next assignment? Here’s what’s coming up next:

Assignment 1: Lenses
Assignment 2: Exposure
Assignment 3: Perspective
Assignment 4: Focus
Assignment 5: Shutter Speed
Assignment 6: Supplemental Light

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