3 ways to shoot at sunset with natural light | Part 1

This is a 3 part series and parts 2 and 3 will come out this Thursday  and next Tuesday respectively! :)

 Natural light, at just the right time of day or in the right circumstances can be a thing of beauty. Today, we want to talk about 3 key ways that we use natural light during sunset in order to get 3 completely different looks. Variety is important to you as an artist to keep your work fresh, and it gives your clients great choices which can help lead to more sales.


Set-Up #1 – Backlit Diffusion



The image above was shot at about 45 minutes prior to the sun-setting. When the sun is still a little high in the sky, we tend to use this method we will talk about today as our first option. There are the 3 key things we do in order to make the light soft and have the subtle “glow” to it that you see here. When you follow these steps, you will get really stunning lighting on your images that your clients will LOVE!

Step 1. Find Natural Diffusion 

First, we find something to take the sun (which is still a little bit up in the sky) and diffuse it, but NOT block it completely. Then, we put their backs to the sun so the light creates a nice halo effect around them. We live in TN and we have LOTS of trees here, so we try and find one with some colored leaves on it that can tone down the power of the light and give us that glow and vibrant color.



You can see how the tree spreads out the light and gives us that softer diffusion to create that glow around our subjects. The light hitting their backs is still direct, just toned down.


Step 2. Open Sky as the Main Light

Next, we make sure that there is open sky hitting their faces. If there was a tree with diffused light, but our subjects were facing a huge hill or a dark building, then the light bouncing back at them would be dull. If, however, the sun that is behind them is lighting up the sky, then bouncing back into their face and body, then we will have a nice “main” light to give good, soft light on them. If you were in the camera position from the above shot and turned your head around and looked behind you, you would see nothing but a bright open sky and that is what is hitting their faces – soft, reflected light.

Screenshot 2014-09-17 13

Step 3. Use a Reflector as Fill-Light

When we are further away like in the shot above, then we don’t need perfect light in the eyes. But, as soon as we get close, we need to use a reflector in order to open up the shadows that the main light (the sky) is creating. This will give our images that finished look in the camera before we even put them into post-production. We used the silver side of our reflector for this shot because it gives lots of reflective power. If you are NOT reflecting direct sun, then silver is a good bet. If you are reflecting direct sun, then using white is a better option. (See our post on using reflectors HERE for more info!).

Essentially, we are using the silver side of our reflector and bouncing light back up into the shadows that are coming down the face from the sky (our main light). If you want to know which reflector we use, then you can download our free gear list HERE.


In the final image, you can see how we have that soft light on their faces, you will notice the reflection in her eye which is the reflector filling in the shadows, and the overall image comes out nicely.


For added effect, you can add a touch of sun-flare to the shot (like this one has), by just moving your camera ever so slightly into the bits of sun peeking through the tree. Removing your lens hood can help you get better lens flare as well. (For more info on shooting with great lens flare, read our entire post about it HERE).


Stay tuned this coming Thursday for part 2 on this post!


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