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How do you choose which is the "main" light?

Discussion in 'General flash photography, lighting, and technique' started by BostonRott, Jun 1, 2007.

  1. I have just purchased an SB800 and am working on learning about lighting and flash photography. Many sites talk about using either the ambient light as your main light, with the flash as fill, or the other way around (flash is main light, ambient becomes fill).

    What drives this decision? Temperature of ambient? Direction of ambient (i.e. if it's coming in a window)?

    I'm in the VERY early stages of learning all of this. Have been to the Strobist site to read, but even the 101 stuff is a bit advanced. I'm not looking to get into a lot of off-camera work (well, maybe a bracket in the future, but not stands/umbrellas, etc) and find that much of their discussion is not applicable for what I'm trying to learn.

    Thanks in advance for your time/help! :smile:
  2. Normally if you are inside, the ambient light would not be real bright and would therefor be the fill. If you are outside the ambient light would be quite bright and you would use the flash for fill. There is no hard and fast rule other than the main light is normally the brightest and the fill is to eliminate or soften the shadows.
  3. Gretchen, I found Mike Hagen's ebook a very good resource. You just missed a Nikonians workshop on the Nikon CLS, it was last weekend, that Mike conducted. I took the D80 (I had signed up for it back in Dec but when I upgraded to a D200, that class was full).

    Anyway, I found the ebook very helpful learning how to use my SB-800 (it also covers the SB-600. Thom Hagan's is currently out of print, he's working on the 2nd edition.
  4. That is a great question!

    And that's an excellent, intuitive answer.

    My take on it is the main light should be directional and brighter than the fill. So if I'm shooting in the shade, I'll use the ambient for fill and a speedlight as the main. But if I'm indoors and there's sweet light coming through a window, I'll use it for main, and a speedlight fired through an umbrella for fill.

    That's OK... you will later on :wink:.
  5. main light = strongest light.
  6. OK but that doesn't answer the question since one has the option of adjusting the strobe so that it is either brighter or dimmer than the ambient.
  7. I need to work on learning how to set the flash (i.e. manual settings) so that I can have it as either the main or the fill.

    I do have to say, last night I slapped it on the camera straight out of the box (I know, I know....on camera flash "ewww").....anyway wanted it to shoot Em's 2yr bday celebration with George's parents last night..... I was VERY impressed with how nice some of the shots looked considering that I don't even know what it was set at (something called TTL BL?)....I just bounced it off the ceiling. At least I knew to do that much. :tongue:

    I gotta find some time to do some reading. I thank you all for the suggestions and the link to the Ebook. :smile:
  8. If it's dimmer then the ambient, then it becomes Filll and trhe ambient is the main.

    Really, no jokes, the strongest light is the main light.
  9. Uncle Frank is right.......you can choose to set things either way. I've read info about setting the flash to be 2 stops less than ambient metering (so that it becomes the fill) and I've also read about using the flash as the main light, with ambient as fill and wondered how you decide which fits.

    I personally am a big fan of ambient light, and would prefer to use the flash as fill, but started wondering if I was approaching things all wrong.
  10. Of course Gretchen, that is a personal call; however, if the ambient light is not bright enough to give you a good shutter speed then it becomes pretty apparent that your flash must be the main and the ambient your fill. There are always tradeoffs with photography and flash just puts another entry in the mix. I will say again, normally when shooting inside I use the ambient light as fill and the flash as my main. This makes the subject stand out from the background.
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