Step by step
1 Get the shot set up
All you need to capture this type of portrait is a Speedlight fixed to a stand with asilver umbrella attached, plus an ND filter and a means of triggering the flash off-camera, such as radio triggers, a sync lead or your camera’s wireless flash system. (We used Nikon’s commander mode to control the SB-900 Speedlight here). Directing the Speedlight into the silver umbrella will ensure you have a soft, diffuse light to flatter your subjects.
2 Expose for the ambient light
Don’t turn on the flash light yet. Instead, you need to set the camera to Manual mode and work out an exposure for the ambient light. If sunlight is making the scene very bright, start with ISO100 and 1/200 sec, then adjust the aperture in a series of test shots until the face is correctly exposed. Here we used f/4. With the boy’s back to the sun, this correctly exposes his face but blows out the sky – but don’t worry about that yet.
3 Under-expose with filters
Next, under-expose for the ambient light. You could do this by setting a much smaller aperture, such as f/11 or f/16, but then you’d also increase the depth of field, and in this case you want that to be shallow so that it blurs the background. So instead, add a standard two-stop ND filter and a polariser. The two filters combined block out about four stops of light, which makes the sky look moody, but leaves the face too dark.
4 Light up the face
Now you can turn on your flash and set it to Manual mode. On a bright, sunny day you’ll be working at the power limits of most Speedlights, so start at full (1/1) power, and then reduce it if necessary. We positioned our flash (bounced off our silver umbrella) directly above the face here, from roughly one metre away. We also placed asilver reflector on the ground beside our model to bounce extra light back up into the shadows.