Small Flash Tutorial: Lights and Gels Techniques to Build Atmosphere

[tps_header]In previous posts, we’ve discussed many of the benefits of working with small flash. We have also covered a variety of techniques and specific equipment to control and shape the directional light they create. For me, this adaptability and compact size are huge when working on location and trying to augment the existing light instead of overpower it.

In this article, we’ll walk through what first appears to be a simply lit image. The devil is in the details though, and we’ll cover them all, from gels to scrims to strips to good ole streetlights. Using this variety of tools and techniques, we’ll work to subtly build in our light, to create an atmosphere in a big way.


Step One

Small Flash Tutorial

Erik Valind

We had to start somewhere, and for this shot it was the location that got things rolling. The sun had just set on an after­noon of shooting and we were cutting back through one of the alleyways of Ybor City in Tampa, Florida. The streetlights were just turning on and everything developed that gaslight-orange glow. We stopped after walking past a stoop and wooden railing, which seemed as good a place as any to get one last shot. The gritty ambiance was perfect, but the single existing streetlight was not giving me what I was looking for in the way of portrait lighting, so I decided to add a few more lights of my own.

The orange glow of that existing light is what inspired my next move. We mounted a single Nikon SB-800 Speedlight on a tall light stand and slapped almost 2 full stops of CTO gel on the front of it. Those gels warmed up the color temperature of our small flash so it would fall more in line with that of the existing overhead light. Placed behind our model without any other modifier, we gain the benefit of a rim light, separating him from the dark background, while mimicking the hard flaring quality of
a streetlight.

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