Working with available light

On Saturday 7th June 2014, a small and perfectly formed group of photographers, all members of the Facebook group, The LIGHT Side met on Brighton Beach in blazing sun and moderate wind to work with basic kit to create some stunning images of a delightful model, Lauren Cole.

Hard sunlight, with intermittent light cloud to provide some softening can be quite a challenge, especially when there is no convenient local shade.

With the aid of California Sunbounce reflectors, a DIY diffuser panel and an Elinchrom Ranger Quadra with the 26cm high efficiency reflector I encouraged and guided the group to think about and create their own images. And create some stunning images they did. There are no CLS (Crappy Lighting Sketches) of the set-ups, but there are a few wide shot BTS images. Considering we only shot for less than 80 minutes much was learned and achieved in such a short time.

My thanks to Lauren Cole for standing in at the 11th hour and to Peter Williams for assisting. Linda Johnston, Neil Hobday & Grzegorz Iwanski you did a great job and created images to be proud of.

© Copyright Grzegorz Iwanski 2014

As you can see here, the back/side light was at times somewhat harsh. That said, nice shot Grzegorz.

© Copyright Linda Johnston 2014

The conditions were fine for soaking up the sun or frolicking in the water, but not for flattering portraits. The sun was high and to camera camera right. In the above image the sun was flagged from Lauren with a white rip stop nylon diffusion panel, aka scrim, and light reflected to camera left.

© Copyright Peter Williams 2014

Behind the scenes - holding the reflectors was a challenge when the wind gusted!

© Copyright Neil Hobday 2014

In this image from Neil Hobday two reflectors were used - a California Sunbounce Micro Mini white/gold zebra to camera right and a white DIY diffusion panel acting as a reflector, low to camera left.

© Copyright Neil Hobday 2014

Another from Neil. I love the spontaneity in this image. Same set-up improved pose.

© Copyright Neil Hobday 2014

Again, same set-up. Nice one Neil.

In addition to various reflectors and diffusers Pete Williams & I both packed a single Elinchrom Quadra head kit into our respective backpacks.

© Copyright Grzegorz Iwanski 2014

Contrary to what some say, it is possible to create images in bright sunlight with portable battery flash without resorting to TTL triggers synchronising the flash at shutter speeds beyond the normal flash sync speed, which in most cases is 1/250th second.

What we did was simple, and simple without complications is good!

The direct sun was blocked or flagged from Lauren with my white diffusion panel creating what was in effect open shade. The Elinchrom Quadra was fitted with a deep 26cm high efficiency reflector (no diffusion or colour correction) and metered at around ƒ/8 +⅓, 1/125th 100 ISO. The daylight exposure was close at ƒ/8, 1/125th 100 ISO with the incident dome pointing to the sky opposite the sun and held close to Lauren's face. This gave an effective ration between the flash and ambient of 1:1 in this case the perfect balance. So no dark and under exposed sky here!

© Copyright Linda Johnston 2014

In this case the perfect balance, a stunning light from a hard and undiffused flash. The Quadra was running at around 25% output which is about the same as the average Speedlite or hot shoe flash at 100%. Basically, you can create this kind of image with Speedlites.

The Quadra was roughly 2 feet above Lauren's heard height and about 10 feet away at about 4 o'clock. Peter Williams acted as the VAL - Voice Activated Light Stand. The Quadra head was attached to a painters extension pole with a 1420 VAL Spigot instead of a light stand, which is far more practical on a beach with pebbles.

© Copyright Grzegorz Iwanski 2014

Did I say no dark skies here! Grzegorz (Greg) a great job with this image, the whole thing pulls together nicely.

Outdoor available light workshops are always fun as you don't know what to expect, especially in England. On the 7th June 2014 we were blessed with blazing sunshine and light broken cloud which acts like a scrim to take the edge of the sun.

Linda Johnston made the observation that the white Grid Cloth/RipStop diffusion panel was too much for her taste. Basically, the density of weave in the fabric reduces the intensity of the light and makes the shadows loose any edge definition, turning them milky.

Elinchrom flash is available from The Flash Centre. Email Simon Burfoot or call Brian Collier at the Birmingham branch.

The 1420 VAL Spigot is available from selected retailers in the UK and direct from me for US or UK customers.

If you're serious about your photographic lighting then maybe The LIGHT Side Facebook group will interest you. It's about all things to do with light and lighting. TLS is a closed group so someone will need to add you or you'll need to send a request to be added. It's a friendly group, with a degree of humour and some great photographers willing to share and contribute.


  1. Thanks Ian and Peter, it was a great session. I learnt a lot form the afternoon and Lauren was a wonderful model. The images you chose were my favourites too.


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