preserve backgrounds with ocf

by Michelle Turner

preserve backgrounds with ocf photo

We’ve all seen it– the lovely sunset or the beautiful blue sky.  You want to use this gorgeous scene as the backdrop for your photographs, but the light just isn’t right.  You have to choose– either you expose for the background and your subject is underexposed, or your expose for the subject and your background is totally blown out.

preserve backgrounds with ocf photo

The good news is that you can expose for both with your off camera flash!  First, you’ll set your camera up to expose for the sky (making sure to stay within your camera’s sync speed limits).  Then you’ll put your flash on manual and play with the power level until you have a good exposure on your subjects as well.  Remember, the closer your light is to your subjects the softer it will be, so position your flash as close to your subjects as you can!  You can connect your flash to your camera with either a trigger/receiver set or with a long cord.  Remember to get your flash up higher than your subjects so that the shadows fall down behind them.

preserve backgrounds with ocf photo

If the sun is out, you can also use it as a rim light to produce a bit of glow around the edges of your subject.  In the photograph below, the sun was positioned behind and to the left of my boys.  I wanted to get them at this specific spot at Acadia National Park, so this was a perfect opportunity to let to sun provide the rim light and use an off camera flash to add light to their faces while preserving the background.  You can see the before and after shots and the effect that the light has on the subjects while keeping that gorgeous blue sky.

preserve backgrounds with ocf photo

Using a modifier will definitely soften your light– I use a Photek Softlighter for most of my OCF work, but there are many wonderful models across every price point!

preserve backgrounds with ocf photoMichelle Turner, Maine
Director of CMU, CMU Instructor
website | blog | facebook | twitter
As an author, speaker, and instructor of CMU’s Off Camera Flash workshop, Michelle has a strong desire to teach others about photography. While her specialty is weddings, portraits, and commercial work, her goal is to capture “the best version of reality” for her clients. She is a Nikon photographer who spends her time in both Pennsylvania and Maine with her husband and two boys and enjoys spending time with them skiing or hiking in the mountains whenever possible.

preserve backgrounds with ocf photo


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

9 Responses to “preserve backgrounds with ocf”

  1. Melina
    Aug 27 2013 at 5:54 pm #

    Beautiful!!! What a difference!! Thank you for sharing Michelle!! <3

  2. Aug 27 2013 at 5:57 pm #

    awesome! love this!

  3. Erin W.
    Aug 27 2013 at 6:21 pm #

    I can’t believe I’m going to ask a question this stupid, but here goes. Where do you actually PUT the flash? On a stand of some kind? Or is someone else holding it? Sorry, I’m clearly new to OCF but am loving what you’re able to do with it here!

    • KimG
      Aug 28 2013 at 1:55 am #

      Erin, yes typically the flash is on a stand or tripod. Most flashes come with a little “foot” to attach to a tripod mount. Or you can have a person hold it, like I did on top of the German Alps…DH was my flash stand that time!

  4. Julie Kiernan
    Aug 27 2013 at 10:09 pm #

    Hey Michelle, I have always been so intimidated by flash and lighting kits. I got my gear for your upcoming class recently, and just today, tried working with them (before reading this tonight) and was thrilled with how easy they were to set up and use. Gorgeous, even light. I cannot wait for your OCF to start!

  5. KimG
    Aug 28 2013 at 1:56 am #

    Michelle, this class was amazing and I love how it opens a whole new world of opportunities that I used to cringe at!

  6. Aug 28 2013 at 9:24 am #

    Michelle it was so much fun to learn all this stuff in your class! After learning to shoot manual this class must have been the biggest changing point for my photography, so many new possibilities!

  7. Jennifer B
    Aug 30 2013 at 3:13 pm #

    I love seeing your work (and your handsome boys!) Can’t wait for class to start up again! :)

  8. Tanja
    Sep 21 2013 at 5:59 pm #

    I totally love this site and all the pictures on it. I’m trying to try out new things and I would like to try these tips out.
    So I got a question. it might be a stupid one but you dont hold me against it but how can I expose for the sky? What kind of settings do I have to use?

Leave a Reply

Optionally add an image (JPEG only)