Balancing Strobes with a Setting Sun: A Lighting Tutorial!
By Jay P. Morgan
“They say you shouldn’t judge a book by a cover, but everyone of us who buys a book spends a few seconds looking at the title and the cover. Not only that, publishers know that readers also flip the book over and look at the picture of the author. That’s why more and more authors and publishers are viewing the author photo as a marketing opportunity. The author photo is just another opportunity to tell a story. An author who takes a simple portrait is telling a story, but it’s probably something like, “There is a reason this guy isn’t a model.”
Today’s photo shoot is for Robert L. Harding. Robert has written a thriller called, “Death of the Wayang”, set in Indonesia, and we wanted to show something strong and action-oriented in the photo. Robert likes airplanes and is a student pilot. We had an opportunity to shoot at historic Santa Paula airport surrounded by beautiful scenery, a number of vintage aircraft, including this Steerman Biplane, and a gorgeous California sunset. This lesson shows how we balanced our strobes with a setting sun to get an interesting Author Portrait.
Let’s look at how we set up our lighting combining strobes with a sunset to give us this creative portrait. The challenge is to keep the fading sunset balanced with our strobes long enough to give us time to shoot.
Let’s break the light and exposure process down. The most important light source for this image is the BG light or sunset. Let’s look at how to combine strobes with a changing background or sunset. The sunset changes too fast to give us enough time to get our photo so we need to be prepared to change our exposure every few minutes.
Here is our opening exposure. 160 ISO is my choice for clean blacks. I set the aperture to accommodate for the depth of field I wanted. I want to see the airplane. F13 gives me enough depth of field to see the plane clearly. Aperture controls the strobes.
Now to get a proper exposure on the background I use the in camera meter and take a reading on the sky. It gives me 160 of a second at f13. 160 of a second will be my starting point. We will control the BG with the shutter speed. The strobes will stay the same at f13 and we will lengthen the shutter speed to keep a proper exposure in the sky or sunset. This gives us the first image above.
A small Octodome will serve as our key light. It’s just off camera left in a rembrant position.
Here is our image with a the key light.
The airplane is way too dark in the BG so we are going to direct a dynalite strobe head at the front end of the airplane. This head has only the reflector on it. I will move it toward the camera so it lights the front and side of the Airplane.
That looks much better on the airplane.
We need to add a fill light on our talent. We added a Photoflex P22 with the white side toward the talent.
Here is our image with all lights but before the sunset starts.
We added 2 Rosco Smokers in the BG for effect.
Now is when the fun starts as the sun begins to set. Our shutter speed will be lengthened every few minutes to keep the background sky exposed properly. We will get to 1/3rd of a second before we are done. With the exposure this long, a neat exposure technique starts to happen. If I ask my talent to move slightly right or left it leaves a black line around his head or body. t
This is created when he moves before the strobe goes off. His body is acting like a mask on the sky not allowing any exposure in that area. When he moves after the exposure starts the strobes imprint his body and face out of register with the dark area he created on the sky. This is a fun effect to play with. The longer the exposure the more interesting this can become.
I took the image into Nik Color Efex Pro 4. I used a recipe called black gold and turned off the levels and curves and colorize layers. I took it through the Black Gold recipe one more time and left the levels and colorizer on this time. It’s interesting.
This is our final image.