We’ve all seen it– the lovely sunset or the beautiful blue sky. You want to use this gorgeous scene as the backdrop for your photographs, but the light just isn’t right. You have to choose– either you expose for the background and your subject is underexposed, or your expose for the subject and your background is totally blown out.
The good news is that you can expose for both with your off camera flash! First, you’ll set your camera up to expose for the sky (making sure to stay within your camera’s sync speed limits). Then you’ll put your flash on manual and play with the power level until you have a good exposure on your subjects as well. Remember, the closer your light is to your subjects the softer it will be, so position your flash as close to your subjects as you can! You can connect your flash to your camera with either a trigger/receiver set or with a long cord. Remember to get your flash up higher than your subjects so that the shadows fall down behind them.
If the sun is out, you can also use it as a rim light to produce a bit of glow around the edges of your subject. In the photograph below, the sun was positioned behind and to the left of my boys. I wanted to get them at this specific spot at Acadia National Park, so this was a perfect opportunity to let to sun provide the rim light and use an off camera flash to add light to their faces while preserving the background. You can see the before and after shots and the effect that the light has on the subjects while keeping that gorgeous blue sky.
Using a modifier will definitely soften your light– I use a Photek Softlighter for most of my OCF work, but there are many wonderful models across every price point!
Michelle Turner, Maine
Director of CMU, CMU Instructor
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As an author, speaker, and instructor of CMU’s Off Camera Flash workshop, Michelle has a strong desire to teach others about photography. While her specialty is weddings, portraits, and commercial work, her goal is to capture “the best version of reality” for her clients. She is a Nikon photographer who spends her time in both Pennsylvania and Maine with her husband and two boys and enjoys spending time with them skiing or hiking in the mountains whenever possible.