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Creating Background

In this shooting project, we will follow photographer Sarah in a top secret location in the Alps of Northern Italy. Her mission is to overpower the bright midday summer sun of that day, and for that she used real power - the AD1200Pro. The following article will show you how she think about each setting and get the idea image she wanted:


Today we are going to be shooting outside, and I want to really push the limits of what we can do with an outdoor flash. For that we need some epic scenery, bright sun at midday to give us a real challenge, and some spectacular skies. And, of course, the most powerful battery pack flash I know of, the absolute beast that is the Godox AD1200Pro, which combines unrivalled power, TLL and High speed sync (HSS) all in one beautifully packaged product.

Incredibly, this powerful light, which has 1200 watt seconds of power and a separate battery pack, is surprisingly small and lightweight. I usually shoot alone, without assistants, so portability and ease of use is key.

I’m going to be using it in some really hard to manage locations, so a light flash head is essential to stop the nightstand blowing or toppling over. I can also use the battery back as a weight for the light stand.

Shot #1 Overpowering the sun

For my first shot I want to get the maximum power possible out of the light, so I’m using a silver coated interior pro reflector from the Godox range. This will provide us with a hard light that is similar to the hard light from the sun, which I will be using as my rim light. 

The secret to balancing ambient light with flash, to whatever degree you want, is to first expose for the background. For the first few shots I wanted to turn the really bright midday august sun to almost a nighttime look. Once I had the background exposed as I wanted, with deep, dark blue skies, I then added my flash. Our model Valentina is swinging back and forth, so I need to time my shot correctly to catch her at the right point to make her dress fly, and with her at the right distance from the flash head. Too close and the light will be too powerful and she’ll be overexposed. Ideally I want the light to reach her when she is farthest away, swinging high, for a really epic shot.

Shot #2 Balancing ambient and flash

As we progressed in the shoot, I decided to change my camera settings slightly in order to brighten the background and balance it a little more with the light on Valentina.

For this set I don’t want to overpower the sun, but rather balance the background  perfectly with the light on our model.

I’m going to place her with her back to the sun, so the sunlight will gently highlight her hair and shoulders, providing dimension and separation, and I want a softer shadow falloff on her face and body, so I’m using a softbox and feathering the light across her and in front.

While I love shooting in the studio, you can have the same degree of control outside. All you have to do is pretend the scenery or sky is your studio, and the sun is an additional light. For this set I want to use the gorgeous blue cloudy skies as my backdrop, so the white couture dress Valentina is wearing stands out. The light coming from a 45 degree angle is providing shape and dimension to the details of the dress.

We have a road right in front of us, but what I want is the sky behind her - so I have her stand on a table and angle myself so I’m cutting out any unnecessary distractions

As always on a shoot, don’t forget to have fun

Shot #3 Feathering in the forest

We don’t just have mountains here in the Alps, we have beautiful forests as well. The next couture dress we are featuring is bright red, so I’m going for my favourite complementary colour palette, and choosing the greens of the leafy woods for a harmonious, yet dramatic feel.

This time we are using the 165cm reverse umbrella with diffusion.

Deep in the forest, there is relatively little light, and I want to shoot at a shallow depth of field, at f2.8. This means we certainly don’t need all of the 1200 watt seconds that the ad1200pro gives us, but this amount of power can be useful in other ways. It means I can use the power of the battery pack’s ultra fast recycling speed to shoot in burst mode, and experiment capturing Valentina’s constantly moving, flowing posing, almost like a dancer.

We are on a slope, and there is quite a distance between where I want to place Valentina and where I can safely put the lightstand and large umbrella, at times up to 4m. With the AD1200pro there is more than enough light to easily reach her, even with the extreme feathering technique I am using. The light is pointed away from Valentina, so just the edges of the softer light touch her.

Shot #4

It’s now late afternoon, and we have plenty of power in the battery left. The sun is disappearing behind some dramatic cloudy skies and the wind has picked up, so I decide to take Valentina up to the highest point we can reach on foot for some powerful full length images.

Because it’s so windy, I’m using the small silver reflector we used for the first setup, and the battery pack to keep the nightstand stable.

Remember, expose first for the background without any flash, then add the amount of light you need to light the model. Underexpose the background for drama, or keep it closer to a normal exposure for a more balanced, natural look. 

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