Lately when I have been on location, I have had to make a decision whether or not to shoot with my strobes or simply shoot within the confines of what is available with the ambient light. A few things contribute to that decision. For instance, if the client wants realistic lifestyle images and they hand me a list of 45 shots to be done in 3 hours in an office, warehouse or retail facility where employees are actually working and no models are hired, I might carry one portable strobe to pop in a little fill light on my subject, but probably my plan would be to work with the available light and concentrate on capturing real moments under the light that is present. My ISO is set higher and if I use my 200 mm lens shot wide open to get the soft background behind my subjects, my shutter speed would need to me 200 or above. Basically, I am moving quickly, firing off many frames and paying attention to focus, shutter speed, and the placement of my subjects in the frame.
This is in contrast to having 3 hours to shoot 2-3 images. In this case, I can meticulously light the scene with my strobes or continuous lights, most likely I will have a hired model and my camera would be tethered to a laptop for proofing as we go.
Both styles of working are enjoyable and both methods of lighting are linked to their respective styles. I couldn’t produce 45 images in 3 hours and attentively set up for each shot. I would loose the spontaneity of what is required with the lifestyle, authentic look as well as run out of time if 3 hours is what is budgeted. If I have 3 hours to shoot 2-3 images, I might only use ambient light if appropriate, but I have the luxury of time to take it to the next level and light the scene the way I want.
Sometimes while I am shooting, I will use my speedlights, then I will turn them off and capture the same scene as it is in life under the existing light.
Here is an example in an industrial facility under fairly dim ambient lighting.
Another scenario that I am asked to capture often is the person and their computer, highlighting customer service, inventory or engineering capabilities.
In this case I shot one under the florescent ambient lights and then I turned them off and popped in my SB 900 speedlight tucked behind the computer tower on the desk. with a light blue gel. Two different looks with minimal time used to set the strobe in place for a few frames. This gives the client options.
This final example is an architectural image. In the first frame I shot without any added lighting. There was a mix of tungsten and daylight. The daylight was spilling in from a window off camera on the right. In the second frame, I added one speedlight balanced to the overhead tungsten room light. (The files shown were not color corrected or retouched) This again points to a subjective preference. Aside from the importance of getting accurate color of walls and furniture, the depth of where the light falls on the scene, is a subjective preference, I believe.
Before a project, I try and get as much information I can: time allotted for photography, will we have paid models, if not do the employees know I am coming, a shot list, etc. Once I have all the particulars and strap on my camera the day of the shoot, I remind myself as I’m walking to the first setup, to stay flexible and attentive and to give allowances to turning off my lights and using whats around me…or not.