Overpowering the sun with speedlight

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When you are shooting on a bright sunny day, the sun can work to your advantage or completely destroy your shoot.  If the sun is positioned behind your model, though it acts as a beautiful rim light, the subject will be in shadow. This is when you need a powerful strobe to lit up your model, essentially there are two scenes to expose; the background and the model. If the sun is positioned facing your model, you will find your model is well lit, but will tend to have hard shadows on the face. You will also need a powerful strobe to life up the shadows, or sometimes reflectors will work too.

If you are looking for a powerful speedlight, check out the Nikon SB-910 or Canon 600EX-RT.

On a bright sunny day, it is not unusual to shoot at f/8 or higher and high shutter speed just to keep the exposure down. With such settings, the strobe needs to be fairly powerful. While most strobes should accommodate this easily, using only speedlights will put a lot of stresses to these units themselves. A lot of power is pumped out from these little units and if you flash too fast, they will overheat.

Here are a few tips that will help to reduce the stresses on the speed lights:

  1. Use low resistance batteries like the Sanyo Eneloop XX, this helps to reduce the heating.
  2. Use multiple speed lights to share the power
  3. Shoot at a slower pace, let the speedlight recycle and dissipate some of that heat.
  4. Shoot at flash sync speed, 1/250 to maximise the power of your flash (read more here). If possible, use a lower f-stop and higher ISO.
  5. Use ND filter to lower f-stop and higher ISO. This increases the camera’s absorption of flash light.

In this image, the sun acts as the rim light, highlighting the outline of our model. There are two scenes that I want to expose correctly; the model and the background. To expose the sun and sky correctly, the camera setting used was at f/8, ISO 100, 1/250s. To expose the model correctly, I added a single SB-900 fired at full power. If we didn’t use a speedlight, the model would be underexpose based on this camera setting (bottom image). The flash does make a lot of difference to the end result, creating that “pop” to the the overall image.

It works the same way even if the sun act as the main light, placing a speedlight at the shadow side, will help to lift up some of the hard shadows that the sun create.

Here are some of the images using the SB-900 as fill light.

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About Kent Yu

Kent is a professional wedding and portrait photographer based in Wellington, New Zealand. He and his team specialise in modern and contemporary weddings. Kent has his work published in international magazines and is a regular author to a number of photographic publication. He is fascinated by photographic equipment and enjoys showcasing the gear used in creating his images. You can find him on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Google+
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