Shooting outdoors means creating natural light. Here, it’s low-sky hard backlight we want
Creating natural-looking images outside, where flash is hidden, can be done in a number of ways depending on the look you want to achieve. Lifting shadows or creating diffused light, like that found on a cloudy day, will mean soft diffused light. In such a situation a large softbox is ideal.
In the example below, however, we explore the idea of using flash to make hard and direct sunlight. I want to create an image that looks as though it was shot in the afternoon, as the sun gets lower in the sky. I also want to shoot directly into the ‘sunlight’, or in this case our flash.
It is important to pick a day that is close to the conditions you want to create. A damp or dark day won’t tell the story, as the hard sunlight will feel out of place and less believable. Therefore, I shot on a sunny afternoon so that background light and the light in the image blends with our flash.
The location I chose provides us with the shade to place our model, some sky to show the bright sunny day, and also trees and foliage to break up the hard light in the background and prevent overexposed sky dominating the image. Placing the flash in front of the trees will give us some contrast and create interest.
Most important is the direction of light and how it enters the lens. Firstly, it should be placed high up so it feels like it’s coming from the sky. Too much power, and it will create harsh flare that will detract from the model. The flare can be controlled by the direction and power of the flash, which will be different for every setup. It is therefore important to take full manual control of the camera and flash, start with an ambient light reading, then add the flash, experimenting with direction and power until you achieve the desired image.
Remember also that depending on the time of day, the temperature of light changes, so using a CTO will help blend the flash into the existing light.
FIND YOUR LOCATION Outside, I am looking for a location where there is mixture of background and sky, preferably that provides me with a shaded area, but also shows the bright, sunny day.
PREPARE YOUR FLASH As flash will be positioned high up to create the angle of the sun, the head needs to be mounted on a light stand or monopod. Using a bare head will keep the flash harsh and directional.
ADD WARMTH WITH CTO To mimic the warmer light coming from the afternoon sun, I add a one-stop CTO gel to the flash. Here, I use the Profoto kit that clips onto a mount and then onto the flash head.
POSITION YOUR FLASH The position of the flash is behind the model facing into the camera and lens. I place the flash with the tree in the background behind it, as this serves to ultimately make it stand out more in the final image.
SET UP CAMERA To create a correct exposure on the model without flash, my aperture is fixed to create depth, so I alter shutter speed and ISO. I am mindful, however, that above 1/250 of a second, my flash will fire in HSS, which I means I need more flash power.
CONTROL FLASH MANUALLY I set the flash units so I can control them manually. A careful balance is required, and how much I want is determined by personal preference. TTL won’t work here, as we are firing the flash back into the camera.
PICK YOUR FOCUS POINT As there is light coming directly into the lens and the foreground is darker than the background, I set my camera on spot focus so that I can continually alter this while the model moves in the frame and I reframe.
SHOOT AND ASSESS Shooting outdoors in natural light may mean it changes constantly, so you need to keep reviewing and changing your settings to compensate. Here, we only shot when the sun was out to maintain the bright feel in the background.
Right aboveHARD SUNLIGHT, SOFT IMAGE The light behind Kirsty is hard and directional, creating falloff and rim on her shoulders and hair. By balancing the existing light and adding our own flash outside the shade where we shoot, I create a soft feel of image