Overpowering the Sun with Flash

Isolating a flower or other object before a dark background can help emphasize its colors and form to create more visual impact.  And you can do this anywhere, anytime, even in broad daylight with a bright background.  All it takes is a few adjustments to your camera settings and a basic flash unit (Speedlight).

Overpowering Ambient Light

In this video, I first demonstrate how to overpower indoor ambient light to isolate a small potted tulip plant.  I’ve setup two large continuous light sources; one illuminates the background while the other illuminates the subject.  A baseline image is taken showing how a normal exposure of this scene might be created.

I’m using manual camera settings throughout this demonstration.  I start with ISO 100 and a shutter speed of 1/250 sec. (my flash sync speed for this camera).  Initially, the aperture is set to f/1.4.

Next, the aperture is stopped down to f/16.  This results in an extremely underexposed image; it’s dark.  This is because, even though the light in the room is bright, it’s no longer bright enough to compete with the current exposure settings on the camera.

However, if we direct a flash down at our subject (avoiding the background), we can illuminate the subject with enough intensity for a proper exposure.  The background goes dark because it’s not receiving much of the light from the flash.  This successfully isolates the subject in surrounding darkness.

This is the result.

Overpowering The Sun With Flash

In the next part of the video, I discuss in detail about how to achieve a similar effect outdoors in broad daylight.  Depending on conditions and the background, you can isolate the subject in darkness using the same methods shown in the previous section.  But if the conditions are very bright, or the background is something bright (like the sky itself), you might have to use must faster shutter speeds to render the scene dark.  Faster, in fact, than the camera’s native X-sync (flash sync).

For my demonstration, I used a shutter speed of 1/2000 second to render the scene and sky mostly dark.  So it was necessary for me to use high-speed sync (HSS) on my flash.  I explain how I  used a dedicated TTL cord, TTL mode on the flash and HSS to get the final set of exposures.  The camera remained in manual mode throughout.

First, I used exposure settings for a typical exposure of the scene.

Then, I adjusted my exposure settings to render the scene dark, and used the flash to illuminate the subject.

This was the result of using the settings above to isolate the flower in darkness in otherwise broad daylight.  A slight adjustment was made to boost the contrast.

Watch the video for full details on how to achieve this look yourself, using only a single flash.