When I first started shooting photos I loved flipping through pages of skate, mountain bike, and climbing magazines. I would look in awe at the moments frozen in time by a strobe or a speed-light. From looking at those different images I’ve realized that, especially in outdoor shots, good artificial lighting can change an entire scene for the better.
At some point most photographers, whether they prefer natural lighting or not, should experiment with flash photography. This can be a fun and exciting experience, but it can also be frustrating and feel over-complicated. With a lot of my work I try to keep things as simple as possible; less is more, as they say. I’ve come up with a few quick tips to help guide a simple, affordable, and easy set-up that can accomplish a nice flash look in an outdoor adventure shot.
Buy a Flash, Radio Trigger, Shoot-Through Umbrella or Soft Box, and a Hot Shoe Umbrella Flash Mount
These four items can be purchased at very high or very low prices, but you can acquire all of them for around $100 in total. Some people skip out on the umbrella. I recommend the umbrella/softbox to create a more pleasing light that wraps around the subject instead of hitting it with harsh light creating shadows. The Hot Shoe Umbrella Flash Mount will hold all of these items together and it only costs between $3-$10. It can be mounted on a light stand or pole.
Having a wireless flash set-up opens up a whole new world of possibilities. There are endless options from where the light can be set up, so experiment like crazy! During the day most lighting set-ups have two sources of light: the sun and the flash. You need to be conscious or where the sun is in order to set up your flash. In filmmaking and photography there’s typically a key light (main source) and a secondary light (fill light, side light back light, etc.). So decide which will be your main source of light. When I’m shooting I usually like the sun to be setting or just set. Then I fill-flash my subject and it creates a nicer photo that’s not blown out by the flash or the sun.
This is where most mistakes happen. I hate saying there is a right way and a wrong way, because in all creative fields the rules are guidelines and can/should be broken. That being said, I’ve found that when lighting a subject, for me that’s usually climbers, there are some go-to lighting set ups that work better than others:
- Lighting from above the subject
- Backlighting the subject
- Side-lighting the subject
Use a combination of any/all the above set-ups. Think about the feeling or story that should be portrayed and what should be more emphasized.
These set-ups and tips can work in many other settings besides climbing or adventure sports, so be creative and experiment! If you have questions, let me know in the comments and I’ll get back with you!