Eliminating Ambient Light: Exploring Photography with Mark Wallace


Hi everybody and welcome to another episode of ‘Exploring Photography’ right here on AdoramaTV. I’m Mark Wallace. Well, recently I did a video in Mexico City where I created this portrait and I got an email
or a message on Facebook that said that this: ‘Hey Mark, I’m a little bit
confused with your last post I saw some natural light in the room and the
picture you came up with looks like it was taken in a dark room
with one light.’ Well, absolutely. The way that was done is using one of the
basic techniques of studio lighting and that is separating the ambient light
from the light from our flash. Now what I’m going to do over the next few episodes is
show you some basic studio lighting principles so that you can create your
own studio and make your own work and you can take those principles and really
do some amazing things. So the very first thing we need to understand is this
concept of ambient light and light from our flash and it all boils down to
understanding one very important thing and that is how our camera’s shutter works. So let’s start there by learning about sync speed. It’s important to understand
how your camera’s shutter works. Your camera’s shutter has two curtains and
these curtains have names, the first curtain and the second curtain. They open and close to reveal light to the sensor, much like a curtain opens and closes in a
theater to reveal what’s happening on the stage. Let’s take a closer look. When you press
the shutter release with your finger, it tells the camera to open the shutter. The first
curtain opens to reveal the light to the camera’s sensor, then the second curtain
follows behind to hide the light. Then the curtains reset and wait for you to
press the shutter release again. Let’s watch that again. Notice in this animation that the first
curtain opens completely before the second curtain begins to follow. This only
happens at slower shutter speeds, usually speeds under 200th of a second. Now, watch what happens when we speed things up. When the shutter speed is
faster, the second curtain can’t wait for the first curtain to open all the way. If
it does, it won’t make it across in time. Notice in this animation that the
shutter is never fully open, it just reveals a slit of light as it travels
across the sensor and the slit becomes smaller as the shutter speed increases.
Sync speed is the shutter speed on your camera that allows the first curtain to
fully open before this second curtain begins to follow. In other words it’s the
fastest shutter speed you can use with the flash. Let’s take another look at your camera’s
shutter, this time with a flash in the mix. When your camera shutter speed is
set to sync speed or slower, a few things happen. When you push the shutter release button the first curtain opens and as soon as the first curtain is fully open,
the flash fires. Then the second curtain closes. Normally, if we have our shutter
speed set too high, we have problems. Let’s take a look. When you press the
shutter release, the first curtain will begin to open. But before it’s fully open, the
second curtain begins to close. When the first curtain is fully open, the flash
fires just like it did before, but this time part of the sensor is covered by the
second curtain. This will cause our photo to have a
black area and the faster your shutter speed the more black you’ll have in your
photo. Alright, well now that we know about sync speed we’re on the right track to solving
the riddle of how I shot in a bright room and got a very dark exposure. Well, the
secret to this is the understanding that anytime you add a flash to your camera, it
doesn’t matter if it’s a speedlite or a studio strobe, one exposure becomes two
exposures. We have the ambient light that’s the light that’s all around us,
the light that’s from the sun, the light from the street lights, the light that’s from those
office lights that you can’t shut off, any light that you can’t control that you have to react
to you as you normally would, that’s ambient light, natural light, whatever you
want to call it. That light, we have that exposure, and then we have our light from
our flash. The nice thing is we can control these two things independent of each other and so what
we want to do, in the studio, is you want to take that natural light and get rid of it and
so the only thing we have left is the light from our flash. That way we can
totally shape that light and make it exactly what we want it to be and so
that’s the beauty of shooting in a studio. Now to illustrate this I have a
fantastic model. She’s the tallest model in the world. Her name is Kelly. Come on out, Kelly. Now what we’re going to have her do is we’re going to have you stand right over there and I’m
going to take two photos and so the first picture I’m going to take is just
to show you that I can get rid of the ambient light all together. Now, we
have some basic parameters that we already know about and that is first, we
want our ISO to be as low as possible, so we don’t get a lot of ambient light, so
I’ve set my camera to its base ISO. That’s ISO 200. I want to keep my shutter speed
as fast as it can go, but remember because of sync speed, I can only go so
fast. So on this camera its 180th of a second. So that leaves us with the third
leg of the exposure triangle and that is our aperture setting. So I’ve already looked through my lens and used my built-in light meter to figure out that at f10, my ambient light goes away. So to illustrate this I’m going to shoot with
no flash. So I’m going to turn right around. I’m just going to take a picture of you really
quickly here and so we’ve got this shot of Kelly. Now if you look at that, it is absolutely, totally 100% under
exposed, so it’s just a no light. There’s nothing there. Now, the cool thing is that means
when I turn this flash on the only light that my camera sees is the light that’s
coming from the flash which means you could have an entirely white room, a
white wall, you could have white floors, all of that stuff and make it go completely dark. Now, I’m going to show you how to do this. So we need you here is Kelly’s giving me my
Profoto air remote. This allows me to trigger my flash. I’m going to put that on my camera here and then I have a light meter. Now, what I’ve already done here is
I’ve metered this, so I’m metering this here and that meters at f10 and so that matches the aperture value that I’ve already set up and so what we’re going to do now is I’m going to take another exposure. So, Kelly look right into that and we are going to
shoot in this. It’s going to look beautiful. Alright, here we go and look at that
now we have a nice portrait and as you can see, all of that ambient light goes
away and so we have a bright room and we don’t see any of that natural light, we
only see the light from the flash. So there you have it. Once you know about sync speed, get your shutter as fast as you can go, lower your ISO, crank your aperture value down as small as possible to get rid of that ambient light and then you’re only going to get light from the flash and then you’re on your way to shaping that light and
making it exactly what you want it to be and that’s how that works. Well, thank you
so much for watching this episode about getting rid of ambient light and sync
speed. Don’t forget we’ve got tons of videos on AdoramaTV. They’re absolutely
free, so subscribe. Do it right now, it’s absolutely free to do that. Thank you,
Kelly, for a fantastic episode and I will see you again next week.

53 Replies to “Eliminating Ambient Light: Exploring Photography with Mark Wallace”

  1. Great explanation of sync speed. Would have liked to not see the wrinkles on the backdrop from the strobe, though — just a pure black background.

  2. Great explanation, good video.
    It would be more complete if you first explained about the difference in shutters used in camera's.

  3. Thanks so much, Mark…….a very thorough explanation. Good to see you back. I don't do Facebook (WHAT??), so where in the world are you now. And when will we see a travel video?

  4. Wonder who the 4 knuckleheads are that gave the video a thumbs down? Marks explanation was accurate and well illustrated.

  5. Could you use an ND filter instead on shutting your aperture down? That way you can still get the depth of field of your aperture at widest opening or use the sharpest aperture of your lens?

  6. Thanks for the great video. but i was wondering if I can make the same effect without having a light meter?

  7. maybe Happy go lucky nice guy Mark shouldn't get models that look like they're going through a divorce.

  8. Thanks, Mark. Terrific explanation of sync speed and controlling the light. Good luck on the motorcycle trip.

  9. The Slow Mo Guys did a high frame rate video of a camera shutter. You can see it here: https://youtu.be/CmjeCchGRQo It's interesting and clearly shows what Mark is talking about in this video.

  10. what if i want shallow depth of field, let's say I want to shoot at f1.4 or 2.8?how do you set the camera in this case with hss? lowest iso, highest shutter speed possible and than you play around with the flash power to find what's good for you?

  11. so…. do I always have to match the f-stop of the ambient light with the f-stop of the flash? after metering both?

  12. Thanks so much, this is as basic as valuable knowledge, I really appreciate it πŸ‘ πŸ‘ πŸ‘ŒπŸ‘

  13. Great video, Mark. I have a question: I understand the principle of adjusting the exposure so that none of the ambient light is reading through the camera before you introduce the flash. I've actually seen this in many other videos online. My issue is, I'm now looking through the camera and I can't see anything, until the flash fires. How do I frame for the model? How do I set focus? How do I know the exact moment to release the shutter? Am I missing something? Please advise.

  14. Fantastic explanation of sync speed Mark…my only disappointment is there was only one picture of that gorgeous model.

  15. This was a fantastic video that concisely explained something which I have always previously had difficulty understanding – thank you so much!

  16. On my Sony a7iii I have live view, how would I see my subject through my view finder with no ambient light to see them??

  17. But the background wasn't pitch black. It was a little illuminated by the flash, and the curtain behind the model is visible.

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