PORTRAITS AT SUNSET
Photography week|September 30, 2021
James Paterson shows you how to shoot colourful and engaging photos at sundown – even if the sun isn’t out
James Paterson

1 HOUR The evening golden hour has long been known as the best time of day to capture gorgeous landscape photos, but it’s being increasingly used by portrait photographers too. As the sun goes down the vibrant colours can create a stunning backdrop for portraits. And even if the sky doesn’t erupt into colour, it’s still a great time to head out for dramatic clouds.

The key challenge to overcome is the strong backlighting we get when shooting towards the setting sun. This makes it tricky to get a balanced exposure, because the subject’s front will be in deep shade. If we’re using the natural light alone we could expose for the shade, but this will blow out the sky; or we could expose for the bright sky, but then the subject will be in silhouette. Both can lead to great portraits, but if we want to record detail in both the sky and the subject we need to supplement the natural light with some of our own.

An off-camera flash is ideal. A pop of light at the right moment will let us balance out the bold clouds with the light on our subject for a stunning sunset portrait. When it comes to choosing the right light you could use a flashgun, but a standalone flash gives you more control and power over your frame. When we can manage to get the flash working in harmony with the setting sun, the results can be spectacular.

HOW TO CREATE STUNNING SUNDOWN SHOTS

Set up an outdoor off-camera flash for dramatic sunset portraits

HOW TO CREATE STUNNING SUNDOWN SHOTS

1 SETTING SUN

The best angle for our sunset portrait will usually be shooting towards the sun. The most vibrant colours will often form in this part of the sky as the sun reaches the horizon. Even if the sun disappears behind low clouds like this, you’re still likely to see dramatic cloud formations and hints of orange or pink.

2 LOCATION

Think of a location near you that will work for your sunset portrait, and consider the direction of the setting sun in advance. The rapeseed field here offers vibrant colours that match those in the sky. The beach or a lake can be great choices too, as the sun will reflect off of the water.

3 OUTDOOR FLASH

A standalone flash unit, like the Godox AD300Pro here, is ideal, as the output is enough to balance with the sunlight even when firing though large modifiers like a softbox or umbrella. A unit like this will have an in-built rechargeable battery pack. If you don’t have an outdoor flash, a flashgun can work too.

4 MODIFIER & STAND

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