Reclaiming A Failed Sunset

Reclaiming A Failed Sunset

Nothing beats location photo shoots. Don’t get me wrong, the studio can be a wonderfully controlled lighting environment to conduct shoots, but the studio’s got nothing on the almost infinite photo composition possibilities out in the wild. Being a photographer who specializes in mobile lighting situations, it opens up even more doors as I’m not dependent on the existing light. I’m making my own light regardless what is tossed at me, so effectively the world is my studio. The vast “world studio” isn’t without its faults, right? Unlike a studio, we don’t have a giant light switch or dimmer switch for that big yellow ball in the sky, so we constantly have to be mindful of it. We also have to deal with the more unpredictable elements: heat, cold, rain, wind, etc. Aside from two Summer months out of the year here in Washington, betting on good and/or predictable location shooting conditions is much like that of a craps game at the casino. You schedule your location photo shoot… then blow on the dice and toss them down the table. Often shoots get rescheduled or shifted to a covered location because of rain, but if it’s not literally raining the shoots usually push on, even if it’s super gloomy and overcast. It’s those heavy cloudy days that can drive ya crazy, especially when you were putting your money on the sun for a nice evening backlight for your photos. Instead of getting the added contrast, colors, and drama from a setting sun you get… gray, cold, and boring flat light with the sun safely tucked away behind a thick cloud cover. It’s especially deflating if the shooting location is just like the photo example given above: sky and water as the backdrop, which goes from awesome to dull just like that if the sun decides not to show it’s face.

For this fashion shoot, we worked a few looks while the sun was still fairly high in the sky and still behind cloud cover (which we captured as we were waiting for a breathtaking sunset – you can see those photos at the bottom of the post). The most anticipated shots of the evening were to come with the setting of the sun, it was the reason we selected this place. Relocating the model to pose in and around the pier poles exposed by the low tide, the sun would have cast some amazing colors and shadows as it played with the dozens of pier poles littered in the water. The clouds can work for or against you in these situations. Sure, the clouds can block the sunset for the entire duration, but if it does peek through, the clouds can turn into amazing accents of color in the sky. We waited but the sun never did poke through the clouds, so I had to improvise a bit.

You can hide a speedlite just about anywhere in your photo composition to give the photo a little something extra. I’ve hid them in a lot of places – behind subjects, under stairs, clamped to a railing, and I’ve even tucked one inside of a pumpkin to emulate candle light. But this situation wasn’t one where I wanted it to be an obvious back light. I waited all evening for my sunset and I never got it, so I was going to make it. This wasn’t a normal, setup a back light for separation concept. I literally wanted this speedlite to look like the setting sun. I was limited to where I could place the light, as light stand wasn’t going to work here. I had the pier poles, so I placed the speedlite on the closest one behind my model. I tossed an orange gel on the light to give it roughly the same color temperature of sunlight. In the top photo, you can see that the light isn’t at the ideal height, but my makeshift light stand only had one height. I situated the camera so the light would toss some orange flares into the lens which the brain usually associates with the sun. Would you have viewed this photo and assumed that was the sun if I hadn’t said anything?

Here’s another with the speedlite out of frame emulating the sunset.

No, the speedlite didn’t exactly save the day here, the photo is still pretty darn bland if you ask me. For what it could be with any clean sunset tossed our way, it would have been a very lively shot. The speedlite did add a bit of pop to it though. I’ve done this emulated sunset lighting setup a few times, but nothing as obvious as this with the light literally in the shot pretending to be the sun. Usually I set it up coming from out of the frame, leaving viewers to believe sunlight is coming in from the side of the picture (like the photo just above here).

That’s location photography though… hardly ever are you dealt an ideal hand of cards, where everything just magically falls in your lap. It’s more about what you can do with what ya got to work with. You can endlessly plan a shoot, but in the end you really don’t know what the environment will toss at ya and what speed bumps will arise from it. I think that’s why I really like it. It’s a challenge, it’s on-the-fly troubleshooting, and it’s spontaneous in more ways than we care to try and take into account. More to come…