Using Off Camera Flash at Sunset

Last week I missed the SmugMug local meeting (“SMUG,” as in Smug Mug User Group), at which they practiced using off camera flash. So, to “make up” my miss, I decided to practice on my own a bit. Unfortunately for my tolerant husband, that meant that last night while he attempted to peacefully enjoy a good cigar on our back porch, I was running circles around him, moving the flash and firing it in his face. He’s a good sport. 

I used my Nikon SB900, which, like it’s predecessor SB800, has a remote slave function. In other words, it’s an awesome little flash. Equally awesome was the totally unplanned but very fortuitous Arizona sunset last night. (Thank you photography gods.) 

Shooting manually with both camera (D90/18-200) and flash, these first three images were all at f/8, 1/200, ISO 400, flash at 1/4 power. For the first one below of Nathan, I set the flash on my AS-21 Speedlight Stand, positioning it to Nathan’s right, with Nathan between me and the flash. 

I wanted to capture that sunburst through the lemon tree, while also creating a second simulated sunburst with the flash for interest. Adding an additional light source – from a direction other than the camera – makes for a much more interesting image. 

In the image above, I placed the flash almost directly behind him, but just enough to his right that it cast a highlighted edge along his profile, creating better definition of his face and hands against the background. In this case, it isn’t totally obvious that an unnatural light source was added, since the direction of light is relatively similar to the setting sun. 

Here’s Chappelle, in his usual position when we are on the porch: watching us thinking, “get back in here, you jerks!”

To light Chappelle, I placed the flash on the ground in the right corner, pointed right at him rather than bouncing it for fill, and reducing the output just a bit. I wanted to get the reflected sunset in the top left of the window, but focus the off camera light on Chappelle to avoid lighting the entire indoor scene. 

We are Broncos fans around here – I have to be or Nathan might not talk to me anymore. 🙂 He was born in Colorado and has maintained his loyalty. His cigars are usually accompanied by an IPA, and usually, in a Broncos pint glass. My goal with this shot was to make it appear that the sunset was occurring right behind, or inside of, the glass. 

f/6.3, 1/200, ISO 400, 200mm

To accomplish that, I positioned the flash on its stand right behind the glass on the ground, pointed directly at it, only about a foot away. The beer diffused the light which would have been otherwise too harsh.

As the sun sank lower, the colors got more and more bright, and the foreground got darker and darker. These next two are both at f/9, 1/200, ISO 400, with the flash on a chair to my left, pointed up at about a 45 degree angle for fill.

These images are very minimally edited – since I always shoot RAW, I added sharpness (but hardly any additional sharpness is needed at f/6.3 – f/9), clarity, reduced a bit of noise (but there wasn’t much since I was shooting at 400). 

– HBA

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About Holly Baumann Photography

I am Holly Baumann Ambuehl, a commercial and portrait photographer based in Central Illinois. My blog posts feature client work, but I just love to write, so I also write about owning a business, food and drink, travel, and my personal life! I am always honored when clients trust me to capture their vision, and equally so when my readers converse with me about what I've photographed or expressed here. I hope we'll have an opportunity to collaborate professionally and/or become friends. I'd love to hear what you think! - Holly
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