Photographer: Andrew Kung/Andrew Kung Group
Assist/BTS: Allie Filley
Category: Outdoor Strobe Punchy Photoshoot Case Study
For many natural light shooters, shooting out in the open in broad daylight is usually frowned upon, especially if it is in the middle of the day when the sun is at its highest. Typically, the first thing that one would do is look for a shaded area. For a photographer equipped with the right set of tools, however, shooting in broad daylight and out in the open is quite exciting, knowing that you are no longer limited to having to shoot only in the shade. And in this instance, the tools we’re talking about here are not scrims, reflectors and flags to diffuse, block or reflect sunlight; we’re talking about flashes/strobes.
In general, when shooting outdoors with strobes on a sunny day, you are presented with 2 ways to use your lighting:
1) As Fill Light to balance the harsh shadows created from the sun.
2) As Key Light to overpower the sun or to work in conjunction with the sun as another key/edge light source.
For this particular job, I was faced with two different situations; having to shoot out in the open in broad daylight on a cloudless day and also under a shaded area, presenting two different environments that would yield images with an entirely different feel unless we used strobes as the equalizer to achieve the designated treatment/art direction consistently.
We also had to move relatively quickly without a crew, which meant we weren’t able to set up any scrims, flags/floppys to block or diffuse any sunlight. We knew we had one shaded area to work with but we couldn’t shoot everything in that area alone. Considering all things and the art direction, which was to create dramatic, punchy and vibrant images with vivid backgrounds, I knew we had to bring powerful strobes to overpower the sun.
If that sounds challenging, don’t let it deter you. I find the best place to start is to lock in the background exposure. First, determine how you want your background to look. For our shoot objective, we wanted to capture definitive, vivid backgrounds as opposed to blown out, soft and indiscernable backgrounds – this meant that I was going to shoot at least at f/8 for enough depth of field. With my shutter speed at 1/160th, f/8 and ISO125, I achieved a background exposure that was on point for this time of day. Of course, you’ve already guessed at this point that if we were out in the open, our subject would be properly exposed as well (without any flash) though the shadows may be harsh, depending on the angle of the sun. Conversely, in the shade, our subject would be very underexposed.
Once you understand the level of sunlight you are working with and the level of flash power at your disposal, you can simplify everything and treat them all as higher/lowered powered lights, just as you would in a studio environment. With every new set/environment, you have to factor in all your light sources and which ones you can control with the tools and crew that you have. This establishes your parameters and gives you a place to start and for me, it’s always with the background because it is usually the element that I have the least ability to control (you can’t light the background that is miles away; the only control you have is via your exposure settings).
We started in the shade which meant at the camera settings I stated earlier, our background was exposed where we wanted it but our model was underexposed since she was only lit from the overhead sun but not from the front. With that in mind, I made it a point to use the sun as an additional light source; in this case, a top down hair/edge light. I then used 2 strobes as a key and fill light from the front to complete this look.
Here are some images from the first set which was in the shade:
Continuing on, we moved out from under the shade into an open area which was exposed to direct sunlight. Still using the sun as an overhead/top-down light, I continued with our two strobes as key and fill on our subject, making sure to adjust the power settings and distance to keep the look consistent so that everything was consistent, shade or no shade. Honestly, the toughest thing in shooting in broad daylight is making sure that your subject can keep their eyes open without squinting.
If you find that it is too difficult for the model to keep their eyes open in the bright sunlight, you could always go for a pose that is intentional with their eyes closed such as this:
For the rest of the set, we took the look to the street without any cover from the sun and so we continually used the sun as our third light source. Remember, factor in all your light sources, which ones are the most/least powerful and which ones you can control. Once you know your parameters and what you are working with, you can sculpt your light more effectively. For these images, I used the sun as a key light and hair light, depending on the direction we were shooting and then I used my flashes to keep the consistency in the outcome of the image by either filling the shadows or acting as a key light.
PHOTOGRAPHY CHEAT SHEET
2 LIGHT SETUP
How To Setup Lighting For Outdoor Flash Photography
(ITEMS ARE LINKED BELOW)
For this shoot, I used two Profoto Heads on each side of the subject and for consistency, they were used with two identical Profoto Softlight White Beauty Dish Reflectors (21.5″). I also used a white diffuser sock on each beauty dish to soften the light a little more. I primarily used the Profoto Pro-7A generator (A/C powered) for as many shots as I could when I had access to a power outlet but then switched to a Profoto Pro-B2 battery pack for some street level shots where we did not have access to A/C power.
Things to watch out for:
1) When using flash outdoors, make sure your flash has enough power to get the job done. Typically, when shooting at 1/160-1/250th and f/8 or higher at ISO100, regular speedlights will not be powerful enough. This means that you’ll have to bring more powerful strobes with you; more in the range of those that are 500w/s or higher. You can read more about the strobes you will need in the Fundamentals: Lighting – Overpowering the Sun section.
2) To keep the quality of light and the shadows more natural and flattering, it is best to position your key light above the eye level of your model.
3) Remember that you can use the sun as an additional light source. Use it to your advantage instead of viewing it as a hindrance.
4) You want to make sure that your light stands are properly sandbagged and do not become a tripping hazard for the crew and pedestrians. The last thing you want is your light stand falling over and causing damage, not to mention damage to the light itself and you don’t want anyone getting injured by tripping over your light stands. Also, the bigger your light, the more wind resistance it has which means it has a higher likelihood of toppling over on a windy day.
BUDGET FRIENDLY EQUIPMENT (Alternatives)
(ITEMS ARE LINKED BELOW)
LOWER PRICE RANGE
MEDIUM PRICE RANGE
– ELINCHROM 27″ SOFTLITE WHITE BEAUTY DISH (ELINCHROM MOUNT) (For Elinchrom Monolights)
PRESETS & ACTIONS
VS BLOOM PRESET PACK
This LR/PS preset collection produces lighter, brighter images with bold color and sharp details. Many of the Bloom presets increase vibrance and decrease contrast while maintaining shadows and flattering skin tones.
FOUNDER, INSTRUCTOR, NINJA
Andrew has over 15 years of experience in the field and has served on set as the Director of Photography and Principal Stills Photographer for various commercial and advertising campaigns for companies such as Valvoline, Tempur-Pedic, Humana, Churchill Downs and General Electric Appliances.
When he’s not craving sushi (or talking about it), Andrew is an instructor, ninja, and founder of Visionspire. He loves traveling out West, particularly in Sedona and San Diego, sharing cute animal videos, and experimenting with cocktails like he’s the personal mixologist for Bill Murray (his words, not ours).