Lighting at Sunset

September 17, 2020

I got some beautiful images from the other night’s sunset. My stepdaughter didn’t have any dance competitions this summer, so we decided, as a family, to have a photoshoot to document some of the costumes and celebrate her hard work. 


For those interested in the lighting and the shot: 

I shot this on a Sony A7RIII.  Shooting into the sun, I always remove any front filter off the lens.  No matter how good a multi-coated filter you have, filters have parallel flat surfaces – shooting into the sun – you will pay a price in terms of quality when sunlight hits the filter. 

I wanted a high enough shutter speed to freeze her dress and the water. I shot this at 1/500th of a second f5.6. 

I would obviously get more freezing by a higher shutter speed, but (reading on) I had balance my shutter speed against the power of the strobe vs. the sun. 

Power on the Profoto strobe was set to full (500ws).  I opted for HSS (high-speed sync) as I wanted to freeze her dress. For shutter speed, I was optimally after something in the 500-1000th of a second range. Strobes are great for freezing power, but when you combine a strobe with full sun, you still need a fast shutter.  When the sun is bright, you have to find a balance between freezing power and strobe power.  

I used a gel on the Profoto to match the color to the sunset. It was just a 1/4 CTO (Color Temp Orange – orange gel), but it was enough, to get rid of the “blue” strobe cast.  A stronger orange gel also reduces the power of the strobe ( 1 stop) so a 1/4 CTO is a good tradeoff between color and power. 

You can keep ALL the power of a strobe at high speed with a Leaf Shutter – Hasselblad. I shoot with Sonys these days which are MUCH smaller and enjoy, but alas, like Nikon, Canon … and every other camera, they have a focal plane shutter which has a maximum flash speed somewhere around 1/250th of a second.   For every stop you go above your top sync speed your flash loses a stop of power.  That said, HSS is very good these days and if you get the light in pretty close to make up for the loss of power you can get great results with a much less expensive DSLR.  My Sony is still expensive, but an equivalent Hasselblad and lenses would put me back about $15,000. Which for the few times I shoot like this a year… 

Coming from a film background, I usually try to place my light “near” the same direction as the key light (the sun in this image). We are VERY forgiving of the different angles if they are similar and we will tend to see them as one light. One light would have of course been a silhouette.  Yet this image, at least to me, doesn’t scream: “Nice strobe light!” 

If I front light her (her front) it will look artificially lit, but by moving the light back towards the sun a bit, we tend to interpret the light as coming from a single source.  This will help your model appear more a part of the image than “lit by a strobe.”  

I am always happy to help with photography and lighting. 


Look for videos on YouTubeI have an upcoming course for ACDSee users on shooting Ultimate Portraits – from conception to retouching! 


About Alec 


Best known for his advertising work, Alec Watson is a multi-disciplinary digital media artist.  As a photographer, his work has graced magazine covers, movies posters, album covers and a multitude of advertising from Coca-Cola and Starbucks to heads of state.  

As a director of photography, Alec has filmed ad work for companies like Starbucks, Britney Spears, Goldwell, KMS, Microsoft, Sexy Hair, music videos and several award-winning short films. 

A triple threat in digital media, Alec started as a recording engineer and earned platinum and gold records for record production, songwriting, keyboards, and backing vocals. 

Alec was also nominated for a LEO for film composition. 

Alec makes his home on Vancouver Island with his wife Sarah, two amazing children and two dogs–Abby and Arlo.  Still traveling for campaign shoots, Alec’s favorite client is Healthy Role Models, Sarah’s health and fitness company.  The couple produces Sarah’s projects out of a film studio on their property. 



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