~ Article by Trompie van der Berg


In the On-Location Lighting workshop, I teach our students that one of the 7 reasons to use flash is to express your vision. As photographers, light is the notes we use to compose a song. If you only know half the notes the song you create will be pretty limited in tone and originality. If you, however, know the full range of notes you can create a masterpiece! If we are able to recognize and make use of natural light as well as incorporate artificial light where needed we can truly express our vision and create our own masterpieces!

This weekend I shot a wedding with less than optimal lighting conditions. It was a morning wedding and I planned to do the portrait session late afternoon when the light was good. Unfortunately, my plans did not work out and I had to do the portrait session 13:30 in the afternoon on a hot, sunny summers day. I never do site visits beforehand but one day when returning from Pretoria I went past the venue and quickly popped in to have a scout. When I drove into the venue I saw this lone tree in the field and I knew I wanted to do something dramatic there on the day of the wedding. My vision was a sunset shot with the light filtering through the trees and then lighting the couple with flash with the field in the foreground picking up the golden rays of the sun. Great cloud cover would obviously be a bonus!

So we get to the day of the wedding and it is a morning wedding everything finished a lot sooner than myself and the couple planned! This meant I had to do the entire portrait session in full midday sun! I was a little bummed as I wanted my shot under the tree and I wanted it to be dramatic! So I went back to the drawing board and used the tools I had at my disposal to express my vision. Below is the shot with natural light. Not anywhere near the vision I had for this particular setup, even though it’s not too bad!

Trompie Van der Berg Photography

The only way I was going to overpower the ambient light at this time of the day was to pull out the flashes and my Vari-ND filter! I shoot exclusively with manual flash so I can utilize the full power of each flash and that in itself poses a problem. I am then limited to the native flash sync speed of my camera which is 160th of a second on my camera. In full sunlight, this is not nearly enough to subdue the ambient so the other option left to me was to shoot this between F11 and F16. I wanted a shallow depth of field with only the couple and the tree in focus so I pulled out my Vari-ND filter to get back my f-stop. I shot this image on F2.8 to throw the foreground and background out of focus. I underexposed the scene by 6 F-stops on my filter to darken down the ambient and bring out the clouds in the very harsh sky and tone down the grass in the foreground. When the ambient was sorted all I had to do was set my flash power for my subjects. I used my three flash setup, all three flashes set to half power! I needed a lot of light to overpower the ambient.

I shot the image using my 70-200mm lens zoomed to 200mm to compress the scene and make the couple bigger in the frame. In post-processing, I ran the image through Lightroom and used the Tonal Contrast tool in Nik Color Efex in Photoshop. Below is the result and my vision expressed!


Sometimes the situation demands that we be creative in how we use the tools at our disposal to express our vision. Not every scene will give us what we see in our mind’s eye. It is up to us to manipulate the light and create something spectacular from nothing. Join me on the next On-Location Lighting workshop where I will teach you how to manipulate and control light to express YOUR vision!

 Trompie is a DPC Lecturer, Portrait and Wedding Photographer. You can view more of Trompie’s work by visiting: https://www.trompievanderberg.co.za/