Balancing Strobes and Ambient Light at Sunset

Beginner photographers are sometimes startled with the idea of using strobes during outdoor photo shoot. But once you get used to balance flash with daylight, you can get amazing results. This is specially true while shooting a portrait with the warm ambient light of the golden hour, and even during twilight. Photographer Jay P. Morgan demonstrates how you with shoot at sunset with strobes:

Lighting Equipment and Setup

To light the model, Morgan uses a Dynalite Baja B6 with an Octagonal Softbox as the key light, and another Baja B6 with a Parabolic Softbox as the fill light. He also uses a strong rim light with a yellow gel to get edge highlights on the model as well as the props. The yellow gels adds to the warmth of the light and depicts sunlight.

Camera Settings

Pick an ISO setting: The ISO will affect both the ambient light and the light from the strobes. Depending on the ISO capability of your camera, you can start off from any ISO. For the sake of getting cleaner images, Morgan recommends starting from the base ISO which is usually 100 in most of the cameras.

Set Aperture and Strobes: Next, choose your aperture depending on how much depth of field you want. If you want a greater depth of field go for f/8-f/11, and if you want a shallow depth of field go for f/2.8 or lower, and adjust the power of the strobes to get a correct exposure on the model.

Pick Shutter: Shutter speed controls the ambient light which in this case is the sun. If the sun is too dark, slow down the shutter speed and if the sun is too bright, set the shutter speed to a faster setting. as the sun gets down and it gets darker and darker, you will need to adjust your shutter speed continuously. Be careful however while using slower shutter speed as the movement of the subject can cause a dark shadow to be formed.

Planning the Shoot

Once you have the settings in place, it is all up to when and how you plan to shoot. Morgan shares the following tips to help you plan your shoot:

  • The best time to shoot is right after the sun goes down – for about 30-40 minutes (civil twilight).
  • Understand where the sun will set. There are apps like Sun Seeker that can help you for this. By knowing where the sun will be, you can place it creatively in your shot. For instance, Morgan likes to have the sun over the right shoulder of the model.

balancing strobe and sunlight

That is all about the concept of balancing your strobes with the ambient light, in this case, the setting sun.

You can apply this to anything that you do outside; daylight, direct daylight, in the shade. There are so many combinations when you control the strobes with the aperture, and the background with the shutter.

Use the combination of the aperture and the shutter to decide what you want to be brighter and darker to create visually interesting images depending on the lighting conditions outside.

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