Case study: Natural light vs. OCF

Photographers, when you’re freaking out about a lighting situation, I know you might be tempted to settle for a “pretty good!”

But you and I *both* know there is a HUGE difference between how photos look on the 2″ screen behind your camera… vs. full size after you import into LightRoom.

Suddenly what was considered “good enough” on set… is now far from what you knew you could do, if only you thought more clearly.

I wrote this post a few weeks ago about why we must stop using the title “natural light photographer” as a shield/excuse why we shouldn’t learn off-camera flash (OCF).

And “good enough” represents a big temptation to stick to it natural light photographer name plate.

But when you’re willing to go “good enough” for your client- when you’re willing to put in the effort superiority– there are amazing prizes for BOTH of your clients And You!

Your clients receive a better end product. Long and short.

And you, can guarantee results? This means more frequent referrals, and your rates will continue to grow.

“Good enough” is another word for “average”.

And clients don’t leave rave reviews for average service.

There is a quote that I love from the Greek poet Archilocus- “We don’t reach our level of expectations. We fall to the level of our training.

Take a look at these two photos of my client Wendy, taken a year apart-

September 2021 (natural light only)

Off-camera flash vs natural light brand photography |  Abby Grace photography

f/5.6, ISO 2500, 1/80

Our main light in the photo above comes from a small window, located to the left of the frame. And the light coming in from the window is reflected into the swimming pool in Wendy’s backyard, just outside her studio. We also have light coming in through the window just behind it, and I think we also opened up the little door on the left back of the studio.

So all the light directly on Wendy’s person comes in at a 90 degree angle, then That the light bounces around the room to fill in the shadows (picking up the colors cast along the way). The background is too bright because I’m trying to expose Wendy’s face, meaning that compared to the other frames, Wendy is underexposed.

Let me be clear- it’s still a great photo! Wendy looks amazing, and I’m still proud of this frame. It’s what I call a “hero shot” from my client Wendy’s first brand shoot, and I would love to have it on display today!


After several shoots in 2022 that required me to flex every muscle dang OCF that I have, I looked at this photo again and know I can do better.

So when Wendy told me she was planning to use this photo for her book cover, I begged her to let me re-shoot this scene as we planned our third brand shoot in September 2022 (see shoot 1 here and shoot 2 here!), but this time with *kiss* help from Profoto + my little softbox.

This is what we come up with:

Off-camera flash vs natural light brand photography |  Abby Grace photography

f/4.0, ISO 1000, 1/125, plus Profoto lamp with small softbox

Did you see how clean her skin tone is? How much even light is in her face, how truer are the colors across the frame because I cleaned up my light source? Look at the paper on the back wall- I don’t have to blow out my background in an attempt to light up my subject, as the help of my softbox gives me control over the highlights on Wendy’s face & person, meaning Wendy pops out of the background a lot more (perfect for her book cover !).

I don’t *remove* the natural light, I just clean it- I balance the OCF with the ambient light coming in from outside, but because I can light up the front of Wendy there are less dramatic shadows on her face.

Here’s a side-by-side:

Off-camera flash vs natural light brand photography |  Abby Grace photography

This is what OCF literacy can do for you- help you take your photos from “good enough” to “amazing”. And the good news is that it is VERY simple! This is a single light setup. It is lit with only one flash + ambient light in the studio!

You don’t have to complicate the lighting- I know it can seem intimidating to start with, but it’s there even more waiting for you on the other side:

  • Ability to take shots from good –> good
  • Flexibility to shoot in any lighting condition, no matter what the sky looks like outside
  • The skills to shoot in almost any space, no matter how big or small (and this studio is a tight space to use OCF!)

If you’re a photographer who trembles at the forecast of gray skies or rain because you depend on Mother Nature to produce your light, it’s time to rethink your approach.

I promise- it’s easier than you think.

And the boost in your confidence when shooting is worth the effort, 10/10.

In related news, coming soon…

We have a new course coming in just a few weeks, the Brand Lighting Session! Get on the waiting list here to make sure you don’t miss any announcements + discounts during launch week!

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