Joe McNally is not your average Joe. With a career spanning over 30 years and including assignments in more than 50 countries, Joe McNally has shot everything everywhere in every thinkable sort of way. In addition to being an exceptionally experienced photographer, Joe is also known for his remarkable ability to share that knowledge. In this video he explains what lighting ratios are and how to use them to improve your photography. Here is how it works, in Joe’s own words.
So the cool thing about being a photographer is that you can take a piece of your imagination and make it real by taking a picture of it.
But what stands between you and the realization about imagination? All this technology with all these numbers attached to it, right? F-stops, shutter speeds … and lighting ratios, which is what we’re going to talk about now.
I always encourage people start with one light, with the main light, and then build their set from there, just like a kid in the playground playing with building blocks.
That said, as soon as you have two lights going, then lighting ratios become active. If you have two lights with equal power, you have a one-to-one lighting ratio. But if my main light is twice as powerful as my fill light, then I have a two-to-one lighting ratio. That’s lighting ratios. It’s as simple as that.
But here’s the thing I would urge: don’t get hung up on the numbers. What you’re really looking for in lighting something or someone is an emotionally beautiful response to the scene at hand. It’s not numeric, it’s emotional. It’s creative.
SHOOTING IN TTL MODE
So when I have one light in a TTL fashion, I’m governing the power of that light via my flash exposure control on the camera. I’m not using the Air Remote. The Air Remote in a one light scenario is a translator. It’s taking the Nikon TTL commands, translating them to the Profoto TTL commands, enabling them to speak to each other.
When I start to go into multiple lights, how I judge the power of those lights, or how I set that up, is via the Air Remote. In this system the groups A, B and C are TTL. The groups D, E and F are manual.
If you watch the video, you’ll see that I have my background lights set up on group 1D. They are fixed. They are manual. They’re not going to change.
My foreground lights are in A and B, and they are ratioed against each other, firing TTL. Once I set those ratios, the ratios remain fixed. This will govern the specific exposure of each light.
Then I can go into the camera and govern the exposure of the entire scene via the flash exposure that’s available to me on the camera.
SWITCHING TO MANUAL MODE
TTL is great for getting a fast and technically correct exposure. But once you’ve found that, you might want to lock the settings. For instance, let’s say you want to keep your subject for 100 or 200 frames in the same position, in the same environment. Well, TTL can vary! It’s the nature of the beast, right?
So what you can do is this: if you get a nice exposure in TTL Mode, you flip your Air Remote over to Manual Mode, and it engages a thing called Hybrid Mode. At that point the flash value is set.
In other words, if your TTL exposure looks good, flip it to Manual Mode, and it will stay the same, the power level will be the same. And you just run with it.