Shooting under the sun with speedlight and high speed sync

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Shooting under the sun is always a challenge, but when you get it right, you will be rewarded with awesome images. There are some key points to help shooting under the sun; 1)Know where the sun will be, there are apps that will tell you the path of the sun, so you know where the sun is positioned at a particular time. 2)Know how to position the model in relation to the sun, this defines how your model will be lit, and 3)Know your flashes and how to use high speed sync. I have a couple of blog posts discussed about using speedlight to overpower the sun and how to use High Speed Sync (HSS). Check them out first.

The most important aspect of shooting under the sun is knowing how to position you model whether you want to use the sun as the key light or rim light. Once that is established, you can decide whether any fill light is needed. Sometimes a reflector is all that you need, other time you might need to use speedlights (Nikon SB-910 or Canon 600EX-RT) to open up the shadow. Speedlights are very portable and a couple of them can take you a long way. However, putting any diffuser on a speedlight significantly reduces the power of it and if you are shooting under a strong sun, this is not going work. Try to use bare flash.

To overcome the sun using speedlight, you need to turn on  high speed sync mode (HSS). While the flash power is significantly reduced in this mode, it allows you to  shoot at higher shutter speed even at 1/8000s. Here are some tips on using high speed sync:

  • Close down the aperture as much as you can to reduce shutter speed
  • Place your flash closer to your subject
  • Use multiple speedlights to share the work load (more about this on my next blog)
  • Avoid using diffuser
  • Use low resistance batteries to reduce heating problem

To turn on high speed sync, go to your in camera flash setting menu and select 1/250s FP (for Nikon) or select high speed (for Canon). Once it is setup, the speedlight should automatically switch to HSS mode when your shutter speed is above 1/250s. Nikon speedlight will display “FP” on the LCD while Canon speedlight will display “H”. For off camera flash, you will need a HSS capable trigger like Nikon SU-800, Canon ST-E3-RT or Pocket Wizard Flex TT5 (Nikon|Canon).

In the below image, I have used the sun as rim light shooting directly into the sun. The shutter speed was at 1/8000s, therefore the speedlight needs to be in HSS mode. The speedlight was placed just outside the frame of the photo and was set to full power to brighten up Sarah’s face. In the second photo with a similar setup, the sun acts at the rim light on the right hand side and the speedlight was used as fill (also placed on the right hand side).


Here is another example, I have turned Sarah around and the sun is now in front of her. I have added flash to make her more defined “pop” and to lift up the shadow (right image). My camera setting here was f/2 @1/6400s. The chosen shutter speed is required to accurately expose the background and I chose to shoot at f/2 to give me enough “blur” on the background.

Leave us a comment below and tell us how you have shot under the sun.


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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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