I want to achieve this strong flash yet balanced background, I've been trying a couple things out but I need some tips. "ghosts" by Davis Ayer

I know very little about flash in general, so any tips help! Thanks!

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I gave it a try by using flash while also using a flashlight rather than a soft light source. And yes, we all have different tastes :) I'm more drawn to shots that are boldly different and risky, which is probably why I found this interesting. This photographer, Davis Ayer has many unique shots like this that inspire me. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jay
    Commented Mar 26, 2015 at 21:05

3 Answers 3


This is basically the exact opposite of the traditional white-background portrait, as described at How can I get a pure white background in studio photography?, or a modification of What do I need to get photos with a unifom black background? Once you understand those, this is relatively easy.

Raphael explains one possible model, but I think it's actually simpler than that. The ambient, natural light is such that at some reasonably fast shutter speed (¹⁄₁₀₀th or maybe a little faster) and a moderate-wide aperture, there's a dark blue sky and a largely black ground. So, there's no need for a trailing-sync exposure or for the subjects to move quickly.

There's a flash basically aligned with the camera and a little up; maybe even on-camera. It puts a huge amount of light on the relatively close subjects, and spills over to light the ground. You can see the shadow on the ground behind the anti-silhouettes, where they block that spill.

Then, there's probably some post-processing to adjust the curves to bring up the sky a bit (the "lumpy" look is indicative of trying to pull sky detail out of the shadows), and maybe also at the high end to make sure the whites are mostly clipped.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I think it is a longer exposure than 1/100 becouse 1) you can see a clear fall-off of the flash. At the distance the land is almost black. 2) The girls and the flakes are leaving no trail. So the ambient light is too low to expose a trail. If the shutter speed is in the range of a fraction of the second (1/2) they would leave one. 3) So I think the exposure is much longer than a second to have time to leave the frame with not a noticable trail. 4) Also the clouds seems to have a motion blur. \$\endgroup\$
    – Rafael
    Commented Mar 27, 2015 at 15:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Rafael I don't agree. :) 1) Yes, except for the sky (or whatever is in the upper background) the exposure seems entirely from the flash. That doesn't argue for a long ambient exposure at all. 2) Actually, if you look at this larger version, you can see some ghosting from the subject's arm with the bracelet. But without know how fast she's moving that doesn't tell us much. 3) Wouldn't that leave a translucent effect as this example by same photographer? 4) I don't think they do. :) \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Commented Mar 27, 2015 at 16:19

I'd first set my exposure for the background. Next, I'd set up the flash off camera and close to the subject for over exposure.

The important part is the flash is flagged or snooted so you can direct the light to fall on the subject without affecting the background.

Having the background or anything that can reflect light back a good distance away from the subject will help so any light spillage will have little effect on background exposure. Flash will eventually bounce off the background but by moving and directing the light you can allow this to happen outside of the frame and not affect the final image.


In just my opinion:

1) The ambient looks like it is very dark; the clouds looks blurry.

2) Overexpose the flash probably 2 steps. If you can not overexpose more than 2 steps you would need an external one.

3) Shoot the persons and they need to move fast from the place after the flash.

4) I think the ambient is very low light because you can't see trails of they moving, so I think they moved away.

5) This also means that the time to expose the landscape is probably around some seconds... Five? ten? It is hard to know for sure.

In short:

Use in a low light environment Aperture priority. Put the camera on a tripod, and overexpose a flash.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Gave it a try just last night, started seeing a good step in that direction! With some tweaks and my hot shoe flash, I'll be even closer. I got an effect with significant difference by heavily adjusting my built-in flash and an extra light source. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jay
    Commented Mar 28, 2015 at 7:21

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