How to Balance Strobes with Direct Sunlight

Shooting in direct sunlight is a real challenge for any photographer. You could come up with a million different excuses not to shoot in direct sunlight and you’d be right. It’s a different thing, though, when you have something that can overpower the sun and give you a balanced look even in direct sunlight. Jay P Morgan shows us how he was able to pull off some pretty interesting images in direct sunlight:

First, some critical pieces of advice for a shoot like this:

Posing and Background

Posing is important in any shoot involving talent. The best way to pose the model is in a backlit position. However, in this case, Morgan’s hands are tied because achieving a backlit position means bringing in some really cluttering elements in the image background. He’s forced to use side lighting for most of his images.


Morgan used a cross lighting technique to light the shot. The reason? He wanted to balance the exposure as well as ensure that the background retained the perfect natural blue color.

Strobes vs. Translucent

The fact that Morgan wanted to capture the natural deep blue background was another reason he used strobes. With a translucent he would have had to open up the exposure and thereby blow out that perfect blue background.

Strobe Power

You need a powerful strobe to overpower the sun to balance exposures in direct sunlight. Morgan used the new Baja B6, which is a 600 watt-second strobe.

The strobe was diffused with a Dynalite Grand Parabolic Softbox GSB 35”. The light was fired from camera right (the sun side of the model) from a low angle. Here’s a diagram for the lighting setup:

lighting tips for direct sunlight portraits

Lighting Setup

And here’s how the test shots came up, first without the strobe then followed by a strobe:

Ambient exposure

Ambient exposure

image with the strobe

Image with Strobe

The talent was then repositioned so that the sun was almost side lighting her. Here’s how the image came up without the strobe:

Ambient Lighting test shot

Ambient Lighting Test Shot

Then the light was positioned on the opposite side of the strobe and this is how the image turned out:

With the strobe fired

With the strobe fired

The third setup is again a side lighting scenario. This is how the image looks without the strobe. As you can see, Morgan clipped the talent’s face in order to get a correct exposure on the dress:

side lighting tips

Ambient Side Lighting

The strobe was then added:

Side lighting with the strobe balanced with ambient light

Side Lighting, Strobe Balanced with Ambient Light

With a powerful enough strobe—or a number of strobes used together—you can take beautiful portraits even in direct sun. Have you tried this technique?

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