I've got an understanding of apparent light size. I know what happens when I change the distance between my light source, my subject and my background. And I've moved through diffuse and direct reflections. Now it's time to get into some of the practical aspects of flash photography, and there's no place better to start than balancing ambient light with flash.
Some starting points
Just so we're all on the same page, I'm working with both my camera and flash in manual mode. I've learned to work this way because I've found that this allows me to control the final outcome of my images as opposed to giving up some of the creative decisions to TTL, aperture priority, or shutter priority modes.
As for the flash, I typically use a shoot-through umbrella to soften the light. If your working along, I suggest using an umbrella or some other type of diffuser, as simple as a white shower curtain if you don't have anything else. If you're using bare flash, you'll have to knock the power back from settings that I recommend.
So what do I recommend? Well, after doing this for awhile I've found that starting out at 1/4th or 1/8th power, with my flash fired through an umbrella somewhere between two to four feet from my subject is a good starting point. I've never had a flash meter, and learned to do this stuff by shooting, looking at the image, and making adjustments as needed. I can tell you with some degree of certainty that if you start out at an 1/8th of power, and then set your camera's shutter, ISO and aperture correctly, you'll be in the ballpark for a good image. So what about those camera settings. Well, that's where we're going now.
At the heart of this balance concept is the idea that there are two exposures occurring every time you press the shutter release, the ambient exposure, and the flash exposure. If we take a step back and just think about exposure in general, we know there are three variables at play that affect the outcome: shutter speed, aperture and ISO. Whenever we make a photograph, we adjust each of these independently to get the proper exposure for a given scene.
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