Pro Tip: How to Keep Ambient Light from Ruining Your Studio Portraits

If you’re new to the world of studio portraiture and you’ve noticed that the skin tones in your photos are often turning out wrong, it’s possible you’re getting color contamination from the ambient lights in your studio — be that a bank of windows or overhead lights.

Lindsay Adler and CreativeLive want to help you clear that up, and so they’ve published this short snippet of their Skin 101 course to explain how best to avoid this issue.

The tips Adler offers can be boiled down into three points: shoot at or near your flash sync speed, minimize the ambient light as much as possible, and shoot a test frame without your strobes to determine if you’re getting any color contamination.

Adler set up one of these tests in her studio, and she shows you the results. First, here are the shots with the flash trigger removed:

Screen Shot 2014-06-02 at 5.14.37 PM

You see that at 1/200 of a second, she’s getting a tiny bit of contamination, but not much. As the shutter speed decreases, the amount of ambient light picked up by the camera also increases.

Next, she puts her trigger back on the camera, and fires off the same three shots:

Screen Shot 2014-06-02 at 5.14.50 PM

Now you can see how the ambient light from the first three shots interacted with the strobe light and created three completely different skin tones. The goal, says Adler, is to get a test shot that is all black so you know that you’re getting zero interference.

You can hear all of this (plus another tip or two) from Adler by checking out the video at the top. And then, if you’d like to learn more, you can check out the full Skin 101 course over on the CreativeLive website.

(via Reddit)

  • Ashley Brazell

    Good tip, but why are you shooting in a studio without blocking out the light? I can see this as a good tip for needing to do head shots on location, but when I work in studio the lights go out.

  • Rob Gordon

    This is one of those tips for the weekend warrior , it seems

  • thblckdmnd

    If you have a studio and don’t understand how to balance ambient light and strobe light, maybe you shouldn’t have a studio.

  • mbisme

    Plenty of us work with studio lights on location.. it’s not just intended for a studio of course

  • Mike

    Protip: To cancel out ambient light, make more light.

  • Eduardo Eduardo

    Why not just use color films or filters on your strobes! She should of mentioned that.

  • Erik Lauri Kulo

    When I used to photograph in a studio, it was in a shared space with some people working on other stuff like product photography and also some portraits as well. So not an ideal situation, but it was a good environment to learn how to cancel out all the distractions and all the other lights and just work on your setup.

  • adam

    Why would you bother using a low shutter speed at all? Studio strobes don’t care what shutter speed is used, so use the fastest your camera will allow, and the lowest native ISO setting. That and, if you decide to use 5.6/11 then if you’ve still got leakage problems, then you must have a fission reactor in your house to accommodate your power usage. I can see if you’re shooting a shallow DOF look, say 0.95, 1.2, 1.4 even f/2 then just darken the studio or switch off all the lights but the modelling lamps (which BTW on most good lights will shut off before and won’t turn back on till after the flash).

  • Chris


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  • Raymond Larose


  • Webmaster

    The idea was not to balance color, but instead to get rid of all ambient light because it will effect the color/exposure of your shadows if this is not intended.

  • Webmaster

    Because many beginners do not know this fact. Yes, of course you must know this if you have more experience, but beginners are unaware.

  • Webmaster

    Everyone has to start somewhere.

  • Vin Weathermon

    I’ve been doing studio for 20 years and I have to say that comment sounds rather douchy. This video is for people wanting to learn, not people who know it all.

  • Vin Weathermon

    This is a good tip for those who don’t know studio lighting. If you already know it, you should avoid watching and posting negative comments.

  • thblckdmnd

    No, EVERYone does not.

  • thblckdmnd

    The title of the article says “…from ruining your studio portraits.” One can only assume that “if you’re new to the world of studio portraiture” and are having this problem, you either own a studio or are under the tutelage of someone who does and is obviously a very poor taskmaster.

  • Vin Weathermon

    Sorry but your comment is pointless. You say “one can only assume that if you are new…you either own a studio or are under the tutalage of someone who is a poor task master”. What the hell are you talking about? If you are “new” you are “new”. New means New. New means not experienced but wants to be. You like to poop on stories…we get it. You sound like you don’t know what you are talking about either, which is inane.

  • thblckdmnd

    Look, all I’m saying is that some people should stop calling themselves a photographer. Maybe I’m one of them. But let’s stop pandering to the people who think they can just buy a nice camera and start a business.

  • Vin Weathermon

    You mean “let’s stop thinking that people can learn from videos like this and actually teach themselves the skills they can use to succeed without being an apprentice for five years and going to an art school they can’t afford?” I have learned how to do things the hard way myself…and if anyone else wants to do it too I say “fantastic…this is a wonderful field”….but learn as much as you can and always strive to do better work. There are many ways to learn…and a few minutes of this video may have really helped someone. Encourage other photographers….you have nothing to lose.

  • mrplattner

    What? You sound like a pretentious ass.

  • thblckdmnd

    I can be sometimes. I realize I came in pretty hot. Vin is right that we should encourage other people. Sorry.

  • thblckdmnd

    I have been thinking about this for the last couple of days and have a couple of observations:

    1) I realized my frustration with people who just decide to start a business without proper training is somewhat hypocritical because I never went to business school or sought professional marketing training before starting my photography business. Sorry for that.

    2) I appreciate your observations about the value of being encouraging rather than discouraging. Thanks.

    3) Just because I have a strong opinion about something does not mean I’m a douche or don’t know what I’m talking about. I know I reacted poorly to the issue at hand, but gosh, name-calling is kinda mean right?

  • ajfudge

    He wasn’t name-calling. He described your behavior.