How to Improve Your Sunny Day Photography with Speedlights

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You know the scenario: a nice, naturally-lit, mid-day photo shoot goes awry when you see your subject squinting with awful shadows cast across his face. What do you do?

Photographer Jay P. Morgan ran into this challenge when shooting promotional photos for world-famous trick roper Will Roberts. The obstacles he encountered on this shoot included: shooting in direct sun, requiring photos that both blurred and froze the rope, and wanting interesting light on the subject.

In this short tutorial, Morgan explains how a speedlight can be your best friend out in the field on a sunny day:

Morgan’s Equipment for Sunny Day Photography

Lighting Technique

Morgan knew it would be challenging to capture the image he wanted on a bright, sunny day with the sun directly overhead, so he decided to use the sun in his favor. He positioned the subject so the sun provided a rim light, then placed a Speedlight on a stand with an OctoDome around it to soften the light in front of the subject. Using the Speedlight as his key light, Morgan was able to evenly light the subject’s face and the background to obtain an ideal exposure.

daylight portrait lighting

These photos compare the use of the Speedlight as a key light. Notice how the Speedlight illuminates the subject’s face and body, drawing focus to the subject rather than the background.

Creating Motion Blur in Direct Sunlight

Morgan mentioned the other challenge he faced in this shoot was creating two different images of his subject–one with the rope frozen, and one with the rope blurred. He explained that using a Speedlight was key in obtaining these two different images. In his first image, Morgan put the Speedlight on manual, dialed it down to 1/4 power and took the picture at 1/200 at f/6.3. This combination resulted in the correct exposure to capture an excellent shot with the rope frozen in place.

To create a shot with a blurred rope, Morgan moved the shutter to 1/50 at f/13, and dialed the Speedlight up to full power, placing it slightly closer to the subject.

motion blur

Both shots use the Speedlight as a key light, however the first uses the light at 1/4 power, while the second uses it at full power.

Morgan says the advantage of using a Speedlight over traditional lighting in this situation is its sync speed. The Speedlight has the ability to sync to the shutter at 1/200 of a second, allowing the photographer to freeze objects in motion while properly illuminating the subject.

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